How I got a job in Venture Capital

 Photo by  Nick Jio  on  Unsplash

Photo by Nick Jio on Unsplash

Ever since I started in my new role as an Analyst at Rev1 Ventures, I have been intending to write a post detailing my experience trying to break into the world of venture capital. VC is a notoriously difficult sector to make your way in to, especially junior roles for someone only a couple years out of college. A common refrain that you will hear during informational interviews is that there are more professional baseball players than there are venture capitalists. This fact may be overblown (and certainly compares apples to oranges), but it does demonstrate just how difficult it can be to get into the field. Many arguments can be made as to exactly why this is, but at the end of the day, it boils down to a lot of people vying for relatively few open positions. 

I was able to make the transition because I made a plan and executed on that plan. There are things I would've done differently, but I think the fact that I was able to make it to final round interviews at 4 different firms demonstrates that my planning was effective.

One of the first things you learn as you start exploring a career path in VC is that the world of venture is filled with people that are willing to take time to help someone along their journey. Hopefully, some of the insights I have learned can be a resource for other people trying to make their way into the big leagues. 

Fake it till you make it 

The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone trying to get into the world of venture capital, and the place where I think I did the best job in my process, is to fake it till you make it. This means that even before you start working in VC, you should start acting like a venture capitalist. Working in private equity at The Carlyle Group, I knew I was in a related field and at a blue-chip firm that would help get my foot in the door (which it definitely did, but I was on my own past that point), but I also knew that my day-to-day at Carlyle was nothing like what my day-to-day would be like working at a venture capital firm. At Carlyle, I was dealing with billion-dollar transactions that involved decades-old companies, compared to early-stage venture capital where companies may or may not even have a product in the market and any financial records are slim at best. This meant that I had to take it upon myself to demonstrate that I had what it took to be successful in venture. 

You are reading the first way I did this. I started this blog for a variety of different reasons, but one of the main ones was so that I could build a "thought-record" for recruiting firms to look at and see that I had put time and effort into thinking critically about startups and the tech ecosystem. My write-ups on specific startups and my sector thesis deep-dives also gave me something to talk about in interviews. This may seem contrived, but if there is one piece of advice you take away from this post, START A BLOG. To be fair, it doesn't have to be a blog per se, but if you are interested in getting into the world of investing in startups, you need to start creating some sort of content that demonstrates you have spent time thinking critically about, you guessed it, investing in startups. (sidenote: I think this advice is applicable for anyone looking to change fields. Get out there and start creating content around where you want to GO, not where you are right now) I chose to blog because I had some limited (and angst-ridden) experience blogging in my high school days, I wanted to get better at writing, and, as a fan of many blogs, I felt like I had a good idea for what other readers would enjoy. Content creation takes work and commitment. No doubt about it. Before you toss aside this idea as not being worth the effort, you should know that the other analyst that I work alongside at Rev1 also started a blog as a way to help get into the industry. Must just be a coincidence... 

The other way that I started acting like a VC was through angel investing. Now, I do not have the capital to qualify as an accredited investor (generally a requirement for angel investing), but I am fortunate enough that my father does and was interested in trying something new (he is in private equity, so investing isn't new, but investing in tech startups was). We read Angel (a book about angel investing by one of the best angels in the business), joined angel syndicates on sites like AngelList and Funder's Club, and were off to the races. I helped my dad analyze startup investment opportunities and was able to practice doing some of the things I now do in my job such as writing investment memos, developing front-end deal flow, and portfolio management. This experience of actually practicing some of the skills that I hoped to one day be performing professionally was absolutely invaluable. It gave me something to talk about in interviews and I believe it helped me to stand apart from the crowd of other would-be venture capitalists. I was lucky that I was able to get some exposure to this world by working with my dad, but you can still get this practice without a connection to an accredited investor. Sites like SeedInvest and WeFunder offer even unaccredited investors opportunities to invest in startups. You actually don't even need to make investments. You can sign up for these sites and just look at deals without making any actual investments. Maybe start a shadow portfolio where you track what investments you would've made and how they performed. If you see something especially promising that fits a firm's investment thesis, send it to the attention of a VC you have met through networking. It might not be something they invest in, but if it is thoughtful and fits their firm's investment guidelines, I have never met a VC that wouldn't be impressed. 

Whenever you are trying to make a career change into a field different from where you have tangible experience, you need to take it upon yourself to find a way to get exposure outside of your normal working hours. This is especially true in as competitive and nuanced a field as venture. Come up with a way to demonstrate that you are being thoughtful about whatever space you are interested in jumping into. Go to industry-specific events and meetups and connect with people that are actually doing the work you want to be doing. However you want to approach it, faking it till you make it will give you a leg up on landing the role you want. 

Take advantage of the resources that are out there

There are a ton of excellent resources on venture capital that you should be immersing yourself in if you want to work in the space. Below I have listed a few of my favorites. 

Podcasts

20 Minute VC - An awesome and bite-sized way to get smarter on the "wonderful world of venture capital". In each episode, Harry Stebbings interviews a venture capital investor or startup founder in about twenty minutes. I really enjoy this podcast and Harry is a super nice guy that was kind enough to be a resource to me during my job search. 

Invest Like The Best - This podcast hosted by Patrick O'Shaughnessy is my absolute favorite podcast. It covers a wide variety of topics including investing of all types, as well as ways to lead a better and more productive life. The podcasts on venture capital are a great resource, but my favorite episodes are the ones that have nothing to do with investing at all. Patrick also has done a great intro to crypto series that is an awesome first step into that world.

How I Built This - This NPR podcast with Guy Raz is a super interesting and entertaining exploration about how entrepreneurs and business leaders built the companies they are famous for. Not every company explored was a venture-backed startup, but I have found interesting insights about the entrepreneurial journey in every single episode. 

a16z Podcast - Andreessen Horowitz's podcast is my favorite firm-sponsored podcast. They mostly showcase topic or sector deep dives from various a16z speaker events. Definitely a great way to get smarter on specific sectors.  

Angel: The Podcast - Jason Calacanis' podcast accompaniment to his previously-mentioned book on angel investing. Excellent interviews with both angel and institutional venture capital investors. Jason hasn't done an episode of Angel in a while, but he is also the host of This Week In Startups which is very good. 

Websites

avc.com - The definitive venture capital blog by the grandmaster of venture capital, Fred Wilson. Fred publishes a new blog every single day and is a surefire source of wisdom about both life and investing.

John Gannon's Blog - The go-to source for anyone trying to break into venture capital. John's site lists helpful resources as well as a constantly updated source of open positions at venture capital firms. 

TechCrunch - Cliche I know, but if TechCrunch is my favorite of the big tech news sites (others being VentureBeat, Recode, Hacker Noon etc) and somewhere I check at least once a day to get a view of what is going on in the ecosystem at large. 

Feld Thoughts - Brad Feld of Foundry Group is another one of the big-name investors in the space and his blog is a great resource on the ecosystem. He has also written some must-read books for anyone interested in venture investing like Venture Deals. 

Newsletters

StrictlyVC - A venture-only daily newsletter that covers the biggest stories and latest investments in venture. 

Axios Pro Rata - Dan Primack's daily blast of the latest news in business and politics.

Fortune Term Sheet - Another great newsletter written by Polina Marinova that covers a wide swath of the latest news in business. 

Network your socks off 

Does networking matter?

Yes.

Moving on.

 

 

But seriously, networking is a key part of any venture capital job search. The reality is that at most firms, networking will be a relatively significant aspect of most junior roles. If you can't network your way to decision makers at firms, how will you ever be able to network your way into meeting the best and brightest founders? To be honest, networking did not come naturally to me either when I first started my process. When I thought of networking, I thought of the overly-eager undergrad business students that would suck-up to anyone and everyone. I thought I was better than that. But I was so wrong about what exactly networking really was. It finally clicked for me when one of my colleagues described networking as meeting new people and hearing about their stories. I am an outgoing guy that enjoys meeting new people and making new friends and thinking of networking through this new lens helped it to really click for me and turned it from something I looked down on (and if I am being honest was anxious about doing) into something that I actually enjoyed. Now it is not all rainbows and butterflies. It is a skill that you need to practice like any other and it can be hard work. But like other skills, you will improve on it as you do it more and more. Networking through informational interviews with current venture capitalists is a great way to expand your network, learn more about specific firms/sectors of the venture ecosystem, and get your foot in the door. 

Getting into venture isn't solely about networking, but it is an important aspect of any job search. For reference, 3 out of the 4 final round interviews I had with firms came about because of networking. BUT I ended up taking a job at the one firm where the opportunity came from me responding to a job-listing online. I think my experience is a great demonstration of just how important networking can be, but also how it isn't the end all be all. 

Be flexible 

Have you gotten the impression of how difficult it can be to make it into the industry yet? If I have not made it clear, let me do so again. Something something more baseball players than VCs something something small number of job openings something something a lot of people trying to get into the space something something 4 partners for every 1 junior level person. 

You get the picture. Unless you have been part of a successful start-up, it will be difficult to get hired as a junior level person in the space. A way that you can mitigate this difficulty somewhat is by being flexible. 

This doesn't mean apply for anything and everything in the space (though that is a legitimate strategy). Instead, pick one or two characteristics that are really important and be flexible on others. 

I was very certain that I wanted to work at an early stage pre-seed/seed firm. I wanted to work with companies at the earliest level and really get in the weeds working alongside entrepreneurs. Because early-stage was a must for me, I decided to be more flexible on other things like where the firm was located. 

Let me tell you, when I started my search a year ago, I did not expect that I would be writing this blog post from Columbus, Ohio! Being flexible will open up more opportunities for you and you just may end up falling in love with a place you never expected like my wife and I have with Columbus!

 

Why VC

Now that I have given you my playbook for getting into VC, you should step back and ask yourself if this is really the sector you want to be in. I can personally attest that it is not as glamorous as Techcrunch headlines would cause you to believe. There is a ton of hard work and grinding. The feedback loop for success is very long and for failure it is jarringly abrupt. If you are motivated strictly by financial upside you are better off going to Wall Street. 

But for the right kind of person it is absolutely awesome!

I love what I do. I believe venture capital is a service industry whose customers are your founders and I love working alongside brilliant and motivated entrepreneurs to build game-changing companies. I am excited to go into work every day and gone are feelings of anxiety on Sunday nights. I love getting up to speed on new companies and learning about technologies that I didn't even know existed the day before. I love creatively solving problems and brainstorming ways for founders to run through the walls in their way. I love helping to build an ecosystem and I love working alongside people that are just as passionate as I am. 

If venture still sounds like the place for you, give me a call (or reach out to me on twitter).

I'll be your first informational interview. 

There's a Fungus Among Us: Fungibility in the Digital Age

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Fungible.

What a weird word. 

From the Latin fungibilis which means "to perform". A fungible good is something that can be replaced by an equal amount of something else without any loss of value or performance. Basically, an ounce of gold is an ounce of gold is an ounce of gold. It generally doesn't matter where the gold came from or what it used to be before it was melted down because all gold is fungible with all other gold. Most commodities (Oil, Gold, and my personal favorite lumber. Lumber deserves its own blog post at some point. Fascinating material from an investment perspective. The only major commodity that is self-replenishing, but I digress) are fungible goods as well as many consumer (Tommy Bahama Shirts) and digital goods (iTunes songs). Stocks are also a great example of a fungible good. 

Fungibility is not a hard and fast rule though. Take my Tommy Bahama shirt example. Fungibility depends on how specific you get with the product. Shirts are non-fungible. Shirts come in different styles and cuts. They are made from different materials and some will keep you warm while others will show off the tattoo you regret from spring break in Cancun. Once you drill down a little bit deeper shirts become fungible. Every ridiculously overpriced Baja Batik Camp Shirt, in theory, is equivalent to every other ridiculously overpriced Baja Batik Camp Shirt. 

Make sense? 

What isn't a fungible good you ask? 

Non-fungible goods are goods that can not be substituted while maintaining their value or production. Artwork is the classic example of non-fungible goods (despite what uncultured dolts like me may sometimes believe). Other common examples include people, land, and events. Nonfungible goods can often be expensive because they are in some way unique. 

Easy right? 

Not so fast. 

The relatively straightforward paradigms of fungibility that we have become accustomed to are quickly being turned on their head by the advent of blockchains and other distributed ledgers.  

Most crypto assets are fungible. They were designed this way so that they could be used as a means of value exchange. Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, and other major cryptocurrencies are all fungible goods. However, there are some crypto assets that have been specifically designed to be non-fungible. These appropriately named Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) are unique from every other NFT. They signify ownership of a discrete and unique asset. The first widespread use of NFTs was in the popular CryptoKitty game (which I wrote more about here). CryptoKitties were unique digital pets with verifiable ownership. This was made possible through the use of NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain. 

Non-Fungible Tokens have some very interesting potential use cases. They can be used to signify ownership of digital goods in a way that was never possible before. When you used to purchase music off of iTunes (so quaint I know), there wasn't any real way to show ownership over the songs you purchased. You'd purchase Sk8r Boi (really?) for $0.99 and you would get access to listen to the song to your heart's content. Your copy of the song was the same as everyone else's copy of the song. There was nothing traceable about it and no way to say who it really belonged to. This is what has made piracy of digital assets so notoriously difficult to combat against. It is very very difficult to definitively says who owns what and where a copy of a digital good came from. 

Non-Fungible Tokens could change all of this. 

Built on the blockchain, NFTs could signify definitive ownership of digital goods. We will know who purchased the good, who has owned it since, and who is the current holder of it. This ability to create digital scarcity is game-changing for digital assets like music, collectibles, and artwork. 

On Valentine's day of this year, a piece of digital artwork, the Forever Rose, sold for $1 million to a group of 10 collectors. The Forever Rose exists on the Ethereum blockchain in the form of ROSE tokens that the owners hold. These tokens are technically not NFTs since they can be exchanged for each other and they each represent a portion of ownership in the digital piece of artwork (pictured at the top of this post). They are a representative of fungible artwork. The Forever Rose is a provocative example of the power of blockchain and token technologies and a glimpse into the future of what digital asset ownership could look like. 

 

 

Red, White, and Blues

 Photo by  Aaron Burden  on  Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It is the 23rd of July and I am writing a post about Independence Day. Better late than never I suppose. The truth is that I started this post around the beginning of the month, but it was something that took a lot of time as it was important to me that I got it right.

Something about the 4th of July has always made me stop and think. I don't know if it is the fireworks, the flags, or the hot dogs. Maybe it is the fact that the broad brush strokes of Independence Day never change year to year, which serves as a great measuring stick for how much my life has. 

This year there was a lot to think about. If you were to listen to the media and your Facebook feed, things would appear like they have never been worse. Partisan politics, trade wars, and children being ripped out of their parents' arms are just a few of the negative images that you would get blasted with if you were to so much as glance at a newspaper stand (do those exist anymore) or flip on the news. Things seem pretty bleak. For the first time, optimism among Americans under the age of 35 is less than that of people 55 or older

But I don't believe that things are as bad as they seem. The 24-hr, commercial fueled news cycle is in the business of sales, and unfortunately, drama sells more than optimism. It is important to remember that things are rarely ever so bleak as the media makes them out to be (nor are things ever as perfect as your friends' Insta stories make them appear). That's why during times like this, I like to take a step back and think of everything that is going right! Here are some reasons to be optimistic about America. 

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The Revitalization of Small-Town America

Rumors of the demise of small-town America have been greatly exaggerated. The state of our nation has people very worried. The difficulties and divides facing our country are very real. Partisan politics and national outrage dominate the headlines of the day. Cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic divides seem to be deepening. A 2016 study by the Atlantic found that only 36% of Americans thought the country was headed in the right direction

Dire as things may seem, there is a different story going on in local communities across this country. 

In the same Atlantic poll, two-thirds of Americans said that they were satisfied with their own financial situation and 85% said that they were satisfied by their position in life and their ability to pursue the American Dream. It is not a stretch to believe that sentiments likely have improved over the past two years with the economy the strongest it has been over the past 9-year expansion and with the jobless rate near 20-year lows and wages growing in step.  This dichotomy between national and local sentiments is indicative of the resilience of America and our local communities. We may fight and kick and scrape at the national scale, as we segment ourselves by political affiliation, sexual orientation, race, and any differentiating factor we can find, but spend some time walking around main street America, and you will find that people treat each other as neighbors. They treat each other with respect and kindness. The media and our technology have allowed us to dehumanize one another, but at the micro level, we still see each other as human. Two people that may yell and scream at each other over social media are happy to help each other carry in the groceries in the real world. 

I have been fascinated by the story of James and Deborah Fallows. The Fallows are journalists that have time and time again upended their lives to follow the biggest story of the day. They spent the 90's following the rise of tech giants like Microsoft and Amazon while living in Seattle. During the 2000's they lived in China and were there to witness firsthand China's economic explosion onto the world stage. In recent years, they have turned their eyes on small-town America where they embarked on a multi-year journey to visit small towns across the country and try to understand what is happening in everyday American communities. Their findings are that the state of our union is much healthier than would appear to outward observers. In their travels, they attributed these local revitalizations to the following drivers. 

Civic Governments - Polls have found that while only a quarter of Americans believe that the national government is doing the right thing, as much as three-quarters of Americans believe in the steps that their local governments are taking. The Fallows observed this first hand across an array of communities of differing ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They believe that these rejuvenated local governments are caused by the increasing quality of local government workers as well as the rise of technologies platforms which allow for easier interaction and adoption between governments and their constituencies. 

Immigration - The Fallows found that despite the increasingly vitriolic national rhetoric around immigration issues, cities that were actually acting as the landing ground for new immigrants were doing an exceedingly good job of integrating them into their communities. Medium-sized cities that take in many of the refugees coming to this country have celebrated them and now immigrants make up a vital and impactful part of these diverse communities. 

Talent Dispersal - There is a growing trend of highly skilled, highly educated workers moving and returning to small towns across the country. People are tired of brutal commutes, high costs of living, and status-obsessed cultures of our major coastal cities. As someone that is a part of this phenomenon, I can confidently say that my wife and I are loving our choice. People are noticeably more warm and friendly in Columbus than they were in DC and there is a real sense of community that you can get in a smaller town than you would ever get in a big city. Cities like Columbus are big enough to have a ton of things to do and all the modern amenities you could ask for, but small enough to maintain a community identity and avoid issues that bog down big cities like traffic and skyrocketing rent. 

Schools - Our education system has issues and in many places lacks resources, but small town communities are developing creative solutions to this problem. An emphasis on community colleges and trade schools helps to equip people for fulfilling careers without the overwhelming financial burden of attending a traditional 4-year institution. College is not for everyone and small towns are leading the way in rethinking what a more flexible and inclusive system of higher education could look like. 

Libraries - One of the most interesting findings the Fallows made was the health of libraries across our country. Most would expect that Libraries were dying the same slow death that has plagued chain bookstores. What the Fallows found (and what nearly every measure of engagement backs up) is that libraries are actually becoming more central to our civic life than less so. Libraries have become community meeting grounds where educated and trained librarians can help connect people with the resources they are looking for.

Manufacturing - The face of manufacturing is changing and small towns are the benefactors. Modern manufacturing is not synonymous with giant plants and factories. In many small towns throughout the country, old factories are being renovated and turned into small high-tech development work spaces. I see this trend myself everyday. My company's cutting-edge work space with all the neon colors, exposed brick, and open rafters you would expect from a startup organization, used to be a mattress factory!

Downtowns - There is a huge trend of downtown revitalization going on across small towns. According to Fallows' article, as many as 1,000 downtown-revitalization efforts are currently underway across the country. Columbus is a very cool poster child for this with one of the most successful downtown revitalization efforts. Other cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Detroit have had hugely successful revitalization efforts and turned neighborhoods that were once rundown into vital hubs of culture and community. 

Conservations - Local governments and private individuals are working together across the country to conserve monuments, national parks, and wildlife refuges.  

The sun has not set on America. Small towns are shining examples of the values that we, as a nation, aspire to.  The question remains, will the current toxicity of our national discourse trickle down into our towns? Or can grass root movements in our towns foster increased innovation, collaboration, and understanding at the national level. I sincerely believe that it can be the latter. 

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The Democratization of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

A renewed focus on entrepreneurship in non-traditional tech centers is spurring a wave of innovation across America. This has been an often discussed topic on this blog and it is a phenomenon that I am fortunate enough to be experiencing first hand. This may be a bit repetitive with my prior reason for optimism, but I wanted to really shine a light on this phenomenon and bring in some of my personal experience. 

I believe entrepreneurship and innovation should be the utmost concern for any modern society. Launching new and innovative companies not only spurs the economy but creates better paying and more fulfilling jobs for workers. For a long time, certain cities have created the lion's share of new enterprises. The poster child for this is Silicon Valley. The cradle of American innovation. Silicon Valley got its name from the development of silicon semiconductors that began to be produced in the 1950's. The innovation occurring in the San Francisco Bay area has, is, and will continue to be vitally important to our future. Other traditional tech ecosystems like New York, Boston, and Los Angeles have their own track records of innovation, but for some time now, the flow of venture capital funding has been too highly concentrated.  In fact, 3 states receive as much as 80% of the venture investing in America. There are a variety of different drivers behind this, between the historical performance of startups from the region, popular (if inflexible and outdated) narratives around where you can scale a startup, and where investors are actually based (most investors want to invest in startups within a 20 minute drive of their offices).

What is NOT a reason for this concentration of capital is that 80% of talented entrepreneurs and high-quality startups in this country reside within just 3 states. 

There are innovative companies and entrepreneurs with game-changing ideas all across the country.  I uprooted my life and moved halfway across the country to a state I had never been before based on this belief. And that belief is paying off! I have been hugely impressed with the quantity and caliber of entrepreneurs and new startups that I am seeing in the Midwest. People are skilled, optimistic, and collaborative. Talented individuals come from diverse backgrounds and have new ideas about how they can make an impact. Cutting-edge research institutions and large corporations are coming alongside budding entrepreneurial ecosystems and supporting them with funding and partnerships. And investors are starting to take notice. Revolution, a DC-based venture firm headed by AOL founder Steve Case, has been at the forefront of this trend with their $150 million Rise of the Rest seed fund. But they are not alone. Drive Capital was funded by ex-Sequoia partners to invest in the Midwest in what they called "the opportunity of our lifetime." HighAlpha, an Indianapolis-based venture studio similar to Rev1, just closed on a new $100 million seed fund. More and more investors are starting to take notice of the Midwest and I believe that the number of investments and high-growth companies in the region will only increase.

I have really enjoyed the brief amount of time I have been able to spend here in Columbus. I have been very impressed by the maturity and quality of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and I am excited to get a front-row seat to the region's continued growth as I work everyday to help support entrepreneurs! 

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The Re-emergence of America as the Solver of Tough Problems

America is once again throwing its full weight against difficult problems. There are natural cycles in economic and technological development. One that I have clearly seen over my lifetime is the cycle between creating markets and saturating markets. New markets are built by creating innovative new infrastructure technologies. These platforms enable a host of new products and services to be developed that were too expensive or difficult to be built before. As the cost of creation comes down, more and more players seek to take advantage of the new market opportunities and the market becomes saturated. Margin dries up as products and services are commoditized, incenting people to seek new opportunities and the cycle repeats as value accrual cycles back and forth between infrastructure development and building on top of existing platforms. 

People solve tough problems (creating markets through critical infrastructure) => people solve easy problems (building on top of that infrastructure) => incentive to solve easy problems decreases (oversaturation/commoditization) => people start working on tough problems (building new infrastructure)

We have seen this play out in a variety of different areas.

In the early days of the web, all the value was created by the companies like AOL and Netscape that were building critical infrastructure. As the platform developed, huge opportunities were created to develop on top of existing infrastructure. These easy problems were solved and a bubble was formed as too many people were chasing value in a saturated market. 

The next major infrastructures developed were mobile and the cloud. Innovations like the iPhone and Amazon Web Services created huge booms as millions of companies and ideas now had the platform (mobile) and ability (AWS and other commoditized services driving the cost of development down).  Since the creation of these major pieces of infrastructure, much of our innovation has centered around the solving of "small problems." Social networking app after social networking app. Photo sharing site after photo sharing site. Our best minds have been focused more on developing uses for existing infrastructure than on developing new innovations themselves. To be clear there isn't anything inherently wrong with solving "small problems." It is a natural part of development and leads to huge amounts of value creation. But the key to a nation's long-term future is its ability to solve tough problems and create the next infrastructure that enables new waves of innovation. It is this exact capability that turned America into the great superpower that it is today. 

I am optimistic because the United States is once again at the forefront of solving tough problems. We are leading the way in developing the next generation of game-changing technology. Genetics, Driver-less Vehicles, AI, and cryptocurrency are just some of the next generation of infrastructure that America is leading the way in building. All of this without mentioning Elon Musk, who is basically Secretary of Tough Problem Solving with his efforts to stop global warming (Tesla and Boring Company) and make humanity an inter-planetary system (SpaceX). Solving tough problems is what made America great. A renewed focus on solving the toughest problems mankind has to offer will make us great again. 

 Photo by  Julius Drost  on  Unsplash

Photo by Julius Drost on Unsplash

America is not perfect. We have our issues. A bunch of them. And they are not always easy. But America is also not down and out. It's the bottom of the 9th and we've got them right where we want them. 

Time to swing for the fences. 

Happy (belated) Independence Day. 

How to Leverage AI to Pull Your Startup Ahead

And now for something completely different! Today, I will be featuring a guest post from Serena Garner at Y Media Labs. Serena was kind enough to provide an interesting post on the practical ways that AI can be implemented into your company. AI is a buzzword that is thrown around a lot in tech, so it is very cool to break down some ways that this technology could be used in a real business setting. This is the first time I have had a guest post, so please let me know what you think in the comments! 

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Artificial intelligence is no longer science-fiction, due in part to the many major brands that have already leveraged it to enhance their marketing campaigns. However, thanks to tech innovations, you no longer need access to substantial resources to take advantage of AI.

Entrepreneurs at startups both big and small can use AI to engage with customers, boost brand awareness, and simplify marketing processes. Developing an AI chatbot may seem a bit overwhelming, especially if your business is just getting off the ground.

However, it can mean the difference between a lukewarm reception, and a dedicated client base. A creative digital agency can guide you through the development process, ensuring your chatbot gets launched without a hitch.

If you’re still not sold, and you run a company, consider the following ways in which this technology can play an important role in your marketing efforts.

Incorporating Vision-Driven AI

If you run a business with brick-and-mortar locations, it helps when you’re able to attract the people who already pass by it on a regular basis. That’s why you may want to consider installing cameras equipped with AI tech: they can read the license plates of people who drive by, connecting with third parties to learn about who owns the vehicles.

This form of customer data yields insights that make it easier to adjust your marketing campaigns so your establishment appeals to the types of people who are most likely to live close to it.

That same AI tech can also identify the faces of repeat customers, helping you better determine how effective your marketing campaigns have been. You can measure how many return customers you have, and ask yourself why that audience seemed to be more impressed with your marketing efforts than others.

Using Language-Driven AI

AI innovations, combined with advances in natural language processing and related tech, have given the world surprisingly versatile chatbots. With an AI-based chatbot, customers can engage with your brand simply by speaking or typing into their devices.

There are many smart reasons to offer one. For instance, bots can replace customer service teams, helping you save money while also responding to consumer needs more quickly than ever before. During each interaction, the bot will gather data and information about the individual client, helping marketing teams better understand their overall customer base.

A chatbot that’s familiar with the tastes and preferences of a particular customer can even reach out to them via social media, alerting them to relevant promotions, new products, and the like. Rather than sending out the same email to each and every customer, marketers can use AI to offer a much more individualized experience.

Case studies prove businesses have already used these methods to great success. For instance, ZenDesk used a social media AI engagement program to develop a list of contacts divided into specific personas. The result: four times greater lead volume.

Data Extraction & Marketing Campaign Optimization

AI is capable of analyzing data much more efficiently than a human ever could. This lets marketers learn a tremendous amount of information about their clients. Thus, they can determine how to position advertising materials for the greatest ROI.

The technology can tell marketers what demographic groups their brand appeals to most, when certain customers are most likely to open marketing emails, what forms of advertising are most effective, and more. In fact, sophisticated AI can even leverage data to make marketing decisions automatically, saving your company even more time and resources.

Best of all, these tools are now available to small startups; you no longer have to run an enterprise-level organization to take advantage of them. Thanks to affordable AI marketing solutions, your company can start benefiting from this technology today.

You've got to risk it, to get that Biscuit

Before getting into my post today, I just wanted to take a little bit of time to discuss the direction of the blog going forward. As you may know, I recently started working as an Analyst on the investment team of Rev1 Ventures. My first couple of weeks of work have been great and I am so excited to work on more investments and work closely with more entrepreneurs! Out of respect for my new role and a desire to not step on any toes I will be making a few changes to the sort of posts I work on.  Since I will be actively working on live deals with startups, I will shy away from doing any more deep-dives on specific companies. I will instead be discussing my personal experience in venture as well as continuing to cover the topics and trends in the space. I started this blog as a way to practice my analysis and writing, and that will continue to be the goal, but things will now be more colored by my personal experience. Now that I am no longer busy with actively job-hunting, you will start to see some long-planned additions to the blog. I want this site to not only be a place to discuss venture capital and startups, but somewhere I can share a bit more about my personal interests and hobbies. If you check out the resources section in the top right corner of the page, you will see that I have added a "Boardgames" section. I have been wanting to share more with you about this hobby of mine and I am excited to bring you more personal content such as this in the future! 

Thanks for all your support and back to our regularly-scheduled-and-loosely-organized running train of thought!

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To Pay or Not to Pay 

The big news in the venture space over the past week has been Microsoft's acquisition of GitHub. GitHub is a software collaboration repository and version control tool founded in 2008. Microsoft announced the $7.5 billion acquisition on June 4th, and ever since then there has been much discussion about whether the deal was good, bad, or "7.8/10 Too Much Water". My personal and highly educated belief is that this deal is a heaping, helping of "who knows".

The deal has all the hallmarks of success, but acquisitions of this sort are rarely so cut and dry. Some large acquisitions work out, some don't. Microsoft's own $26.2 billion acquisition of LinkedIn was one of the richest transaction of all time when it closed in 2016. Naysayers thought that Microsoft was overpaying handsomely, but the deal seems to be working out (despite it still being in its early innings). On the other hand, Microsoft has already written off more than $8 billion dollars from its seemingly-failed from the start Nokia acquisition. 

I am much more interested in the investors that made a bet on GitHub prior to the acquisition. 

GitHub's first funding round was an $100 million round led by Andreessen Horowitz in 2012 with GitHub's pre-money valuation estimated to be approximately $650 million. 

GitHub raised an additional round of funding in 2015 of $250 million led by Sequoia with Andreessen Horowitz and Thrive Capital also participating. The pre-money valuation for this round was estimated to be approximately $1.8 billion. 

I think both rounds represent excellent examples of paying up to invest in a strong company. It is easy to say in hindsight, but at the time, both deals were thought of as having relatively rich valuations compared to the market. First A16Z and then Sequoia paid a premium to get into what they viewed as a strong deal. A16Z felt that GitHub perfectly fit their thesis that the web would evolve to be focused more and more around developers. This thesis alignment gave them the comfort to "pay up" to a price that was more than others thought the company was worth. Their gamble paid off. Andreessen Horowitz went home with about $1 billion in proceeds thanks to their 13% ownership of GitHub at the time of sale

The way that returns are distributed in venture capital makes missing on a rocket ship hurt much, much more than investing in the majority of companies that don't make it. The best in the business are willing to pay up for the best deals. More often than not, this isn't just a case of them offering more than the next guy. The most successful deals occur when investors have a unique and fundamental thesis about the future that causes them to believe that the market is actually undervaluing the opportunity because either the investment isn't as risky as others believe or the upside potential is significantly greater. 

Venture Capital is for optimists. I believe a key to this business is optimizing your process for successful outcomes, not minimizing the effects of failures.

Sometimes that means paying a little bit extra. 

The Start of Something New

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I am excited to announce that today is my first day working as an analyst at Rev1 Ventures in Columbus, Ohio! I could not be more excited about this next step in my career. Ever since my first exposure to the venture capital ecosystem as an intern at 3x5 Partners in Oregon, I have been fascinated with startups and the ambitious entrepreneurs that build them. Making my way into venture capital has been a goal of mine for years now and I am so grateful to the Rev1 team for this fantastic opportunity. This feels like a huge accomplishment, but I know that this is really just where the hard work begins! Very excited to roll up my sleeves and get started!

WHY Rev1? 

Rev1 is exactly the sort of firm I have been looking for. Rev1 invests in seed stage companies. As I went through my job search process I was very purposeful in targeting seed investors as opposed to later stage venture capital or growth equity firms. One of the things I learned during my time at Carlyle was that the later stage you are as an investor, the more your returns are concentrated in two areas: acquisition and exit. When you are buying billion dollar companies, there is only so much value you are able to add to the operations of a company. Large, developed companies tend to be able to run themselves pretty well without too much outside interference. The real returns in later stage private investments are all based around finding the right deals and executing on them. This is a lot harder than it sounds, but it really does work to drive returns for investors. This is all well and good, but I wanted to gain expertise in an area where there is a much bigger focus on partnering with companies to help them grow, not buying them and letting them run themselves until they are ripe to be sold. With Rev1's venture studio model, they are true partners in the entrepreneurial process. They work with entrepreneurs all the way from two guys with an idea in a garage, up to fully formed and fast growing companies. I am thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside entrepreneurs at the earliest stages of company formation. I believe that this role will provide me with an unparalleled opportunity to learn about what it takes to build and lead a successful business. 

WHY Ohio?

Chris Olsen, the founder of fellow Columbus-based VC firm, Drive Capital, calls the Midwest "the opportunity of our lifetime." The Midwest has all the ingredients necessary to support a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as some key competitive advantages versus other geographies. Collectively, the Midwest would be the 5th largest economy in the world. It is home to incredible Universities and research institutions such as Ohio State University, University of Michigan, Notre Dame, University of Chicago, and many more. These institutions provide an incredible wealth of both technical talent and research/Intellectual Property to build companies around. Resources and talent are further provided by the 152 Fortune 500 companies that call the Midwest a home. The ethos of the Midwest is also ideal for building an entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is a palatable underdog status of the region compared to coastal tech centers. This has helped create a much more collaborative environment than one would see somewhere like San Francisco. From what little exposure I have had, there definitely seems to be a view that "a rising tide lifts all boats" and there is a focus on collaboration over competition, as everyone seeks to build up the region together. The Midwest has another "secret sauce" that helps set it apart versus other startup ecosystems: the cost. The cost of living in the Midwest can often be less than half that of living in coastal metropolitan areas. This allows companies to attract and retain top-level talent at a fraction of the cost of what would be required in somewhere like San Francisco or New York. I can personally vouch for this difference in cost myself. As part of our recent move to Columbus, my wife and I were able to double the square footage in our new apartment for approximately half the cost of our previous apartment just outside of DC.

Thanks to everyone that has provided me with wisdom and support throughout this process! Breaking into venture capital is not easy (I am sure there will be another blog post on this topic in the future!), and it is not an exageration to say that I could not have done it alone! 

I am so looking forward to my time with Rev1 and continuing to bring you my insights, thoughts, and views on startups and the world of venture capital. 

Until next time!

The Times They Are A Changin'

Hello there!

You may have noticed a recent slow down in my posts. Real life has kept me busy and there are some big changes that I have been eager to tell you about. 

Today is my last day working for The Carlyle Group. For the past two years I have worked as an analyst at Carlyle in DC. This was my first real job out of college and I couldn't be more grateful to the firm and my colleagues for a fantastic experience. I have learned so much and made some friendships that I know will last a lifetime. Thank you to everyone that has been a part of this chapter of my career!

More to come on what I will be keeping myself busy with in the near future. 

The times they are a changin'... 

 

 

 

A Vote for Voatz

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For some time now blockchain has been the latest startup buzzword. Every new company seems to have a blockchain angle, whether it makes sense or not. Companies are trying to bolt on any sort of blockchain application in order to take advantage of the incredible groundswell of interest in blockchains and distributed ledger technologies. It is hard to blame them when you see the results. 129 year old Kodak announced that it would be launching KodakCoin to manage photography rights in a decentralized ledger and immediately saw its stock price shoot up 60%. The beverage company Long Island Iced Tea changed its name to Long Blockchain and saw its stock price soar 500% as it pivoted to focus on blockchain technologies. 

This trend of forcing distributed technologies into companies where they don't belong is not going to end in success. Blockchain technologies are in their infancy. They hold incredible technological promise, but scalable applications with real users are few and far between. Today I am going to be highlighting Voatz, one such company that is solving real issues in an innovative way that is only now enabled by blockchain technologies. 

WHO  

Voatz was founded by Nimit and Simer Sawhney. Nimit has significant experience in the software development space including time spent as director of R&D at Oberthur Technologies. He also worked at MoreMagic Solutions Inc. for close to 10 years. 

WHAT

Voatz is an electronic voting platform. It leverages biometric scanning and blockchain technologies to make sure you are who you say you are and that your vote is irrefutably preserved. Voatz removes the need for centralized voting locations by allowing people to vote using their own smart devices. This cuts down significantly on costs while making voting more convenient for participants. Voatz can be used in a variety of different settings including elections, shareholder votes, or civic meetings. 

WHEN

Voatz was founded in 2014. In January 2018, Voatz raised a $2.2 million institutional seed round led by Medici Ventures and including Oakhouse Partners and Urban Innovation Fund alongside other minority investors. Medici Ventures is the blockchain investment arm of Overstock.com and invests in Seed - Series B companies that leverage blockchain or crypto technologies. Urban Innovation Fund is another really interesting fund focused on investing in the future of cities. This city-centric focus is one I have seen a few VC firms start to focus on based on the accelerating trend of people moving to urban areas across the globe. 

WHERE

Voatz is based in Boston, Massachusetts. With schools such as Harvard and MIT, Boston is a tech hub that is somewhat spoiled for riches when it comes to tech talent. Voatz has taken advantage of the developed startup scene in these areas graduating from both Techstars Boston and MassChallenge Boston's accelerator programs in 2017.

WHY

Voting is one of the most important areas of modern society. It is used everywhere from presidential elections to boardrooms to classrooms. Unfortunately, it is also one of the areas of modern society to experience the least amount of innovation. Anyone who has ever voted in a major election can easily describe how inefficient and painful voting can be. Voting hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. In fact, voting technology is even REGRESSING back towards paper ballots based on security fears associated with electronic scanning systems. This is where Voatz fits into the puzzle. Leveraging blockchain technology has the potential to create a verifiable record of everyone's votes in a way that is at the same time secure and private. By utilizing biometric scanners and a distributed ledger system, all the votes can be tallied and attributable to an individual without exposing their personal information. This innovation in security would allow voting to become more flexible, with the potential for people to vote on the go or from the comforts of their home. This added convenience is especially important given the fact that voting in the most recent presidential election reached 20 year lows. Voatz is not blockchain technology smashed into an existing product or business model. Voatz is an elegant solution to issues that have plagued voting and elections for hundreds of years. It is uniquely enabled by the development in blockchain technology and paints an optimistic picture of a future where better voting leads to better outcomes and a more engaged citizenry. 

Voatz is a blockchain-native company that is uniquely positioned to solve the challenges of modern day voting. 

The Future of Fintech

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Fintech is a sector that is talked about a lot in the tech world. The reality is that Financial Technology companies are nothing new. You could argue that the greatest innovation we have ever seen come out of Fintech is the credit card and that is nearly 70 years old! Despite this history, for many of us, the way we interact with financial services has not changed. The reason for this is simply that Fintech is a tough industry. There are massive incumbents with vested interests in maintaining the status quo (or to at least slow progress down enough that they can get ahead of it). Regulatory agencies present hurdles that can easily trip young companies up and even once they have been overcome in one state/country, regulations are often different in others. There is opportunity here. There is a deep and fundamental need for innovation in this sector and if your company can be the one to solve the challenges and overcome the regulatory hurdles, the rewards will be massive. 

I am optimistic about the future of Fintech because of three trends.

Democratization of Financial Services

According to a 2015 FDIC survey, approximately 7% of American households are unbanked with a further 19% being underbanked. If you look beyond our shores, the numbers are even more troubling. Over 2 billion people worldwide don't have any access to financial services whatsoever. Financial services are key to people's ability to access socioeconomic mobility. Without savings, there is no safety net. Without loans, there is no buying homes or starting businesses. Without investment, there is no progress. 

Fintech has an opportunity to fill this crucial gap for people. With the proliferation of cheap smartphones across the world, people can have access to critical services and infrastructure that they would never be able to have previously. One company that is facilitating this is Branch. Branch is focused on bringing banking services to those that don't have access to traditional financial institutions. They are primarily focused in Africa and use someone's smartphone as a micro-loan platform. This onboarding into the world of finance will start small, but it is not hard to envision a future where everyone has access to at least the financial basics. 

Not only will financial access spread, but Fintech has the potential to disintermediate legacy institutions. If you wanted to send money to a friend or family member you used to either have to give them cash, a check or execute a wire transfer that would take days to clear. Then along came Venmo. Venmo totally changed the game by allowing people to instantly send money back and forth with no wait and no fees. They even added a social angle that became surprisingly popular (and no you are not fooling anyone with "Your half of the 🐻"). Person-to-person money transfer was the first part of the finance industry to have big institutions cut out, but it won't be the last. 

More than simply bringing financial institutions to those that have never had access to it, Fintech can make financial services affordable in a way that was never possible before. Robinhood has created zero-fee stock trading. Trading fees are a massive disadvantage for retail investors. It is impossible to make any sort of return on a trading strategy if you are a small time investor and you have to pay $8 for each and every trade you make. Free trading has opened up the public markets to more people than ever before. Fintech companies can tear down the walls of market inefficiencies with elegant technologies and business plans.

Trust

The issue of trust has always been at the core of financial services. Money, at its very heart, is an agreement of mutual trust that some intermediary object can be exchanged for goods or services of a certain value. Fiat currency has no intrinsic value outside of this trust and the agreement that it is worth a certain amount. People need trust in order to transact, save, or invest. This need for trust has only increased as money has moved further and further away from cash transactions that people can hold in their hand. A big hurdle for Fintech of any kind is developing the fundamental trust that is required for a user to allow an outside service to hold or use their hard earned money. Luckily for Fintech, there are two major tailwinds regarding the issue of trust: millennials and blockchains. 

Millennials are digital natives that grew up with technology and witnessed the invasion of smartphones first hand. Their willingness to transact over technology is far greater than their parents' generation. A 2016 Gallup poll found that millennials were significantly more likely to trust institutions with sensitive information, even as they were more cognizant of security risks than previous generations. Willingness to entrust bank accounts/savings/retirement plans to Fintech products is only going to increase as younger, more digitally native, generations enter the workforce. On top of this generational trend, there are a growing number of Fintech startups that are not only trying to build trust with their customers but have built their customer's wellbeing into the very heart of their products. Companies like Affirm, who has created transparent and easy to understand financing options without any hidden rates or fees, are building win-win situations where customers are vastly better off than if they were to use traditional financial services.

All this talk of trust may become irrelevant if blockchains have anything to say about it. Yes, blockchains are the buzzword of the day (this blog is no exception). No, not all blockchains are created equal (many people can't even agree on what exactly a blockchain is). What we can say with confidence is that blockchain technologies involving distributed, self-verifying ledgers could lead to massive changes in the Fintech space. These "trust-less" networks pair strong incentives to self-verify with distribution technologies that make them extremely difficult to compromise. You hear about bitcoin exchanges being hacked today, but the reality is that no one has ever successfully stolen from the bitcoin protocol itself (not for lack of trying). The beauty from a security standpoint with decentralization is that since pieces of the network are stored across many different "nodes" all over the world, you cannot hack just one node, you need to hack the whole network. Security will always be a concern anytime money is involved, but with the evolution of blockchains and distributed networks, we are likely not too far from a future of at least partially "trust-less" commerce.

Value Add

My first trend discussed the importance of opening financial access to those that don't have it. The final trend that has me optimistic for the future of Fintech is an evolution from simply adding access towards adding value. In an age of artificial intelligence, Fintech has the power to not only give you access to exciting services but to introduce new financial instruments that have the potential to drive tremendous value and growth for society. A company that perfectly exemplifies this shift from access to value is Wealthfront. Similar to Robinhood, the initial value proposition of Wealthfront was as a cheap alternative to traditional money managers or mutual funds. As the advancement of machine learning and artificial intelligence has accelerated in recent years Wealthfront has broken new grounds by leveraging AI to optimize portfolios, manage risk, and reduce unnecessary fees. With this strength of new technologies like AI, Wealthfront can react instantaneously to rebalance or make adjustments to your investment portfolio. These sort of capabilities have never been available to retail investors previously. 

Another way for Fintech to add value is through the personalization and customization of finance. In the past, investment opportunities had to be selected from a limited universe of options. Yes, you could gain exposure to certain geographies or technologies, but the average person has never been able to really invest in a way that is personal to them and their values. That paradigm is shifting through companies like OpenInvest. OpenInvest allows you to optimize and customize your investment portfolio to align with impact issues that you care about. You can build an environmentally conscious portfolio, a portfolio that doesn't include any companies associated with the weapons trade, or a portfolio of female-led companies. Or you can mix and match all of the above. OpenInvest automatically manages your portfolio according to your values and rebalances overtime as new issues may become important to you. This is just one example of how Fintech is adding value through the sort of personalization that has previously been completely foreign to the financial services industry. 

Fintech is hard. No subject is more sensitive for people than their money, how it is managed, and how it is protected. Overcoming pre-conceived notions, regulatory hurdles, and centuries of built up bias are massive obstacles to any new Fintech company, but Fintech is here to stay. I believe that the impact and empowerment that Fintech companies will be able to achieve in the future by democratizing financial services, building trust, and adding value will truly change the world.

Fintech. It's not easy. But it's worth it. 


Thanks so much for reading! For more from me be sure to subscribe to my posts at the top of the screen. If there are any topics or companies you would like me to discuss, feel free to drop a note in the comments and I will be sure to take a look!

February #DCTech Meetup Demo Day

Hi All, 

I wanted to try something a little bit different than usual. Last week I went to an event hosted by DC Tech Meetup where 6 startups gave 4-minute demos/pitches. I thought it would be fun to go through the startups I saw and provide some quick commentary on each one as opposed to my usual deep dives on a single startup. I tried to Tweet throughout the event and will use these as guide posts.

Hatch provides a platform for users and small business to develop and launch their own apps without needing to write a single line of code. I love this idea and it was my favorite of the night. I am a big fan of anything that "democratizes" technology. Tech has become a cornerstone of each and every one of our lives, and yet the vast majority of us have no idea how it all works. I love services like Hatch that allow people to create and leverage technology, without needing technical backgrounds. However, one thing that makes me nervous is how beholden they are to the Apple and Google app stores. If either one of those companies says that you cannot publish Hatch-generated apps any longer, that could be curtains. 

The second demo was a company called Ridevert. The basic premise here is to put advertisements on bikes and pay people to drive them around. My first reaction to seeing this was a bit of surprise that bike ads are not more of a thing. I would have imagined in cities where bike delivery and bike share programs are so popular, bike advertisements would already exist. Ridevert is a novel concept, but I am not sure the unit economics are there to really drive behavior for the riders. Maybe if you can make the experience seamless enough that people feel like they can get paid for doing the activities they are already doing like commuting or doing deliveries it could work, but I definitely don't see this becoming the next Uber. 

GeoSpark Analytics leverages AI and machine learning to develop global risk and threat assessments. GeoSpark uses inputs from social media, news, weather, IoT (Internet of Things) devices and more to develop a baseline activity level for an area. Once this baseline is established they can extract insights from deviations to that baseline. They claim to use more varied sources than other competitors to provide a more dynamic view of the threat levels in a certain area. This seems like a very interesting premise, and GeoSpark is well positioned geographically with the bevy of defense/intelligence outfits in DC, but I can't help thinking that somebody has already won this race... 

Soundwise is a podcast platform that has developed tools and infrastructure to assist would-be podcasters get their shows up and running. Audio is growing at a pretty amazing rate and it is only going to get bigger in the near future. It is hard to be the next big thing. I love companies that are instead focused on developing the infrastructure necessary to support the next big thing. That being said, Soundwise is not without its challenges. It will be hard to convince users and creators alike to embrace an intermediary platform instead of going straight to incumbents like iTunes. You may be able to get one half of the equation right, but you really need both listeners and podcasters to build an ecosystem. 

Awkward. This was not the final demo. Anyways. Mark Labs aims to quantify the social impact of projects. They claim to be able to measure this impact using machine learning to analyze the key performance indicators of a certain project or investment. I think the real challenge is developing the KPIs worth measuring, so I am not sure how effective this will be. The thing that really intrigues me here is the potential to tie funding to outcomes. If Mark Labs really is able to measure the performance on projects, it could lead to many more impactful projects, as the good projects could be reinvested in and the bad projects could be cut loose. 

Shift is a marketplace for buying and selling used cars. This is one of those ideas where you just immediately wish it existed. Buying and selling cars is such a pain and it is still the same poor user experience it has had for 50 years. There should be no reason to go to a car dealership in this day and age. Unfortunately, there are some serious headwinds that Shift will need to overcome to be successful. Car dealerships are an extremely entrenched incumbent and they have shown that they will not go down without a fight. On top of that I have got to imagine that there are some serious difficulties with inventory/storage of vehicles. I hope Shift succeeds because the process of buying a car really needs to improve. 


Well that's it! I hope you enjoyed something a little bit different. Be sure to leave a comment about whether or not you liked this format and would want to see more summary posts like this in the future!

Identity as a Service

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Twitter's stock price soared over 15% last Thursday on the back of an earnings report where the company disclosed its first-ever quarterly profit. Things seem to be looking up for a company that has seemingly limped along over the past few years. In addition to a stock price that peaked within two months of the company's IPO and has been falling ever since, Twitter has had to deal with scandal, executive shake-ups, and lackluster growth for much of its life. Is today's earning release a sign that Twitter has turned over a new leaf? Or will it continue limping along as other technology startups seem to pass it by?

I believe that not only is Twitter's uptick justified but that Twitter is in fact grossly undervalued and has the potential to be one of the most important companies of the next decade. 

One of the mindset shifts that I have been working on as I try to learn as much as I can about the venture ecosystem and evaluating startups is thinking not about what can go wrong, but what can go right. This optimistic mindset is absolutely key to success when investing in startups. Venture capital is the art of capital risk maximization. Bets are made upon the riskiest assets on earth in the hopes of investing in a Google or a Facebook somewhere along the way. The vast majority of startup companies unfortunately fail. All the returns in this industry are driven by the small percentage of companies that don't simply succeed but explode to unprecedented heights. When viewed through this hopeful and optimistic lense of "what could possibly go right" Twitter can be seen in a new light; not as the 140 character social networking app that it has (up until recently) always been, but as a company poised to act as the fulcrum upon which the next generation of technology leverages.

What is this next wave of technology? Think back to just a few weeks ago when Grandma was asking you over Christmas dinner how to set up a Coinbase account and you will have your answer. 

The next step improvement in information technology will be the sort of distributed networks popularized by Bitcoin and enabled by blockchain technologies. These technologies are in their absolute infancy, but anyone who scratches the surface of learning about them can see that they hold incredible promise. Distributed networks promise a secure and anonymous democratization of information and services to all mankind. 

But how does Twitter fit into all of this? 

These distributed networks are not without their downsides. For every step improvement in security or privacy, sacrifices must be made in areas such as performance and stability. Efforts are underway by brilliant engineers and thinkers to correct these fundamental performance issues, but the reality is that we will never reach absolute parity between decentralized and centralized networks. And even if we could, we don't want to. There will be inherent value to centralized networks that decentralized networks will never be able to truly mimic, as in doing so, they would lose the core attributes that make them worthwhile. 

So Twitter?

Getting there. I believe that we will see the unassailable rise of distributed networks built upon blockchain technologies over the next decade. I further believe, that we will see a trend of centralized network differentiation move in lock step. Centralized networks will always have areas where they are superior to decentralized networks. As the importance of decentralized networks begins to work itself into our everyday lives, a select few centralized networks will have the opportunity to truly set themselves apart by becoming a defining pillar of connected technologies.

Twitter?

Twitter. 

Twitter has the opportunity to take ownership of the aspect of centralized networks that is important now, but will become absolutely fundamental during this shift towards decentralized networks.

Twitter has the opportunity to become our online identity. 

Anonymity has been a hallmark of the internet since its inception. Privacy is important, but equally important is accountability. The rate at which we see examples of the dangers of unbridled anonymity on the web accelerates by the day. Anonymity creates distance and distance allows us to see each other as something less than human. 

Look at cyberbullying

Look at #FakeNews

Look at Swatting

Look at scams that are meant to prey upon the uninformed.

It is time that someone draws a line in the sand and says no more. It is time that we build systems of accountability online. It is time we begin to once again treat each other as human. 

Twitter can be this flag bearer. Twitter currently has 330 million unique monthly users, each with a unique username tied to their identity. They are in pole position to assert themselves as the foundation of identity on the web. We could see a world where your twitter handle becomes your online identity reserved for you and you alone. A world where twitter is the gateway to not only interact with people, but businesses, events, experiences, and yes, even blockchains. A centralized identity platform would remove friction between interactions on the web while increasing the transparency and accountability to all parties involved. 

Would this cure the web of toxicity and mistreatment? 

No. Mankind was able to put one another down long before we got our hands on smartphones and it will be able to do so long after we put them down for whatever comes next. What is undeniable is that more and more of our interactions with one another are taking place within a medium where accountability and humanity are obstructed by the opacity of anonymity. As decentralized networks with the ability to connect anyone across the globe become a part of our everyday lives, it will become even more important to have an anchor point to our fundamental identity on the web. 

Twitter can be this anchor. 

Will they do it?

Probably not. It would require bold and visionary leadership not seen at that company since its inception.

Could they do it? 

Yes. Even if you account for the unlikeliness of this scenario, given the potential value of being the identity pillar of the internet, one must conclude that Twitter is significantly undervalued. Not for what it is, but what it could become. 

Twitter, meet Identity as a Service. 

 


Thanks so much for reading. If you enjoy posts like this, feel free to subscribe at the top of this page. Be sure to leave a comment below if you have any suggestions or topics that you would like to see covered. 

Out of the Valley: Loftium

Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on all great, new ideas. This is the third post in a series called Out of the Valley where I highlight the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of the most exciting and innovative companies located outside of Silicon Valley, and the talented entrepreneurs that lead them. 

Today I am highlighting a company that is shifting the paradigm of home purchasing, Loftium.

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WHO  

Loftium was founded by Yifan Zhang and Adam Stelle. Yifan graduated Harvard with a BS in economics and has experience as an entrepreneur through her founding of GymPact, an app that incentivizes healthy activities through cash rewards. Adam Stelle is a graduate of the University of British Columbia and has extensive experience as a part of the startup ecosystem having been COO of Startup Weekend and Entrepreneur in Residence at Pioneer Square Labs.  

WHAT

Loftium is a fascinating company that is disrupting the world of home financing. Loftium will pay the down payment on a new home or apartment in exchange for a share of the revenue produced by renting a spare room or sub-unit on Airbnb for 1-3 years. The important thing to note here is that it is a revenue share arrangement, as opposed to a loan. This means that the risk of any units not being rented out lies with Loftium instead of their customers. 

WHEN

Loftium was founded in 2016. Loftium's first seed round closed in April 2017 and included investments from Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Founders' Co-op . DFJ and Founders' Co-op later re-upped in a $2.5 million September 2017 round. They were joined by NextView Partners. 

WHERE

Loftium is based in Seattle, Washington. Seattle has always been a tech hotbed, serving as home to behemoths like Amazon and Microsoft. Seattle ranked 2nd on CBRE's 2017 report of the country's top tech cities. Seattle has a reputation of being more of a "corporate" town than a startup haven like Silicon Valley, but as rents skyrocket ever higher in the Bay Area, tech talent and capital are migrating to the significantly cheaper Seattle area. According to a 2017 report by Glassdoor, Seattle had the greatest increase in portion of software jobs of any major city. Look for startups to continue to pop up in the Emerald City as companies tach advantage of its close, but not too close, proximity to the bay area. 

WHY

Loftium fascinates me for two main reasons. First, it takes advantage of a huge demographic trend of millennials buying homes. Home ownership has risen to its highest level in years spurred on by the trend of millennials switching from renting to owning properties. Millennials are moving out of cities and into the suburbs in the search for affordable housing options. Loftium is perfectly positioned to take advantage, and even to help facilitate, this trend. Millennials will be on the looking for financial solutions to help them purchase a house and will have much more comfort around the arrangement of renting out a spare room through Airbnb.

Loftium is also interesting as one of the first of a wave of companies built upon the gig economy infrastructure. The gig economy was created in recent years by powerhouses like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Now we are seeing new companies enabled by this fundamental shift in how we think about work, transportation, and even our homes. Loftium would not have even been conceptually possible until Airbnb created the infrastructure, technology, and maybe most importantly, the social acceptability of renting your spare room out to a stranger. The gig economy is so compelling because of its ability to develop efficiencies by creating value out of assets that would otherwise go to waste. Have some free time on the weekends? You can drive Uber to make some extra cash. Have a spare unit that is only used for storage? Make it an income stream. Now companies like Loftium will be at the forefront of developing new paradigms built on top of the groundwork lain by companies like Airbnb before them. 

Loftium is an innovative home financing solution that takes advantage of compelling demographic trends, while the company itself is at the forefront of the next layer of the gig economy. 


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A New Year's View

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Happy holidays to everyone and a warm welcome to 2018!

2017 was quite the rollercoaster. It started with Donald Trump's inauguration, accelerated with seemingly one hurricane after another, and reached a crescendo with the Crypto craze of the fall and winter. It was also an up and down year for the tech startup ecosystem. For every success story it seemed there was a controversy. For every Nintendo Switch, there was an Uber. For every Oscar Health, there was #FakeNews. It was also a landmark year on a personal note as I got married in October! 

What does 2018 have in store for us? Here are my three trends in tech to watch in the new year. 

The Rise of New Tech Hubs

2017 was the year that tech started to notice the rest of the world. 2018 will be the year that the rest of the world changes tech forever. 

In 2017, we saw investors and entrepreneurs begin to look outside of the coasts for companies and innovation. Pittsburgh-based Duolingo raised capital at a $700 million valuation and recently crossed the 200 million user threshold. Revolution's Rise of the Rest fund raised $150 million (with LPs including the likes of Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Henry Kravis, and Meg Whitman) to invest in startups across the Midwest. Duo Security became Ann Arbor's first unicorn. The below table on the geographic spread of tech jobs in America, from a report by job rating site Glassdoor, clearly shows the growth that "non-traditional tech hubs" are having. 

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I believe that this trend will only accelerate in 2018. New tech hubs like Columbus and Raleigh are churning out exciting company after exciting company, and more investors will surely join the likes of Revolution and Drive Capital by taking notice. 

 

The Legitimacy of Zebras

2017 was the year that we began questioning the Unicorn worship that is pervasive in tech today. 2018 will be the year that we accept that Zebras are every bit as legitimate, and important, as their horned cousins.

For anyone not familiar with the term, a "Zebra" is a company that is focused on sustainable growth and producing profits. It sheds the "growth at all costs" mentality that is widespread in tech and focuses on working with, instead of against, their fellow companies. The reality is that in the tech space, we are exposed to some pretty severe survivorship bias. The companies that get all of the attention in the media are the Ubers/Facebooks/Googles of the world. And that is totally justified! These companies took off like rocket ships and totally changed each of their respective spheres of influence. But these companies only represent about 1% of the venture-backed startups out there. An ecosystem that views outcomes like this as the only version of success is not only unsustainable, but it misses the big picture. There are plenty of exciting, innovative, game changing, companies that will never unlock the level of growth that an Amazon was able to achieve. And that is ok. It is very difficult, if not impossible, for companies in vital sectors like deeptech or biopharma to achieve the astronomical growth that a software company can achieve simply because those technologies cannot scale like software can.

Zebras are the innovation workhorses of our economy. They may not drive venture returns, but they employ millions of people across the country and account for a huge amount of growth in the tech sector. I believe that we will see more venture funds focus on this large swath of startups in 2018. The key will be whether or not firms are willing to adjust their fund structures to accommodate more winners at lower multiples, which leads me to...

 

Structures That Add Value

2017 was the year that every VC realized the importance of adding tangible value to their portfolio companies. 2018 will be the year that the structure of venture funds starts supporting this critical mission.

I believe that traditional VC fund structures are not actually ideal for investing in startups. The current 2+20 fee structure (2% management fees and 20% carry over a preferred hurdle) and 10 year fund lifespan are simply holdovers from private equity that have been shoehorned into venture capital because that is what both GPs and LPs are most comfortable with. These "golden rules" for fund structure are followed almost universally across the industry, but can often be overly rigid for the ups and downs of growing a startup. What if there is a better way? It is only in the last couple of years that a select few firms have even begun to wrestle with this question. 

Some firms like indie.vc are adjusting their fund structure to accommodate a different profile of startups. Instead of purchasing equity upfront, indie.vc receives equity options that only execute when companies either achieve an exit or raise a preferred equity round and is entitled to profit sharing up to a maximum of 3x on the cost of the initial investment. This allows the VC and the company to have aligned incentives, even if the company chooses to forgo the traditional focus on raising equity rounds at ever higher valuations and focus on producing profits. 

Other firms are redefining the roles of traditional stakeholders in fund structures. Village Global leverages its LP base as mentors and advisors to its portfolio companies, giving LPs a powerful and compelling stake in driving their own value and unlocking a previously untapped resource for founders. Kindred and the Upside Partnership incentivize cross-portfolio collaboration by making every founder they invest in a backer of the fund itself. Suddenly seemingly disconnected portfolio companies can leverage their individual expertise to drive value and innovation across the whole portfolio. 

VC firms are finally starting to show some of the same innovation that they have always looked for in investments. 2018 will be the year that the very structure of funds will become a key differentiator in the space. 


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Choose Success

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As part of my holiday reading curriculum I recently started Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. It has been a fascinating look inside the mind of one of the world’s greatest and most innovative entrepreneurs. Thiel’s core argument is that the world is in desperate need of change and that this change can only be delivered through innovation. He delineates between two types of innovation, Horizontal Innovation and Vertical Innovation. Horizontal Innovation, embodied by globalization, is the act of taking a technology or process that works in one place and bringing it to another geography or sector.  Vertical Innovation is the development of brand new technologies. By creating something new, Vertical Innovation is a movement from ‘zero to one’ and is, in Thiel’s view, the only way that we can continue to evolve and overcome the challenges of an ever more complex world. 

Thiel’s recipe for innovation starts by developing contrarian views. One cannot hope to innovate by treading the well-worn paths of the way things are currently done. He asks the reader “what do you believe that those around you disbelieve?” After some reflection, I have found my answer. 

I believe that success is a choice. 

I believe that every single person has the capacity to lead a successful life and that this outcome is determined solely by someone’s set of priorities and the personal choices they make as a result.

As a key aspect of my contrarian belief, it is important that I define what exactly I am talking about when I say “success.” I define success as: “leading a fulfilling and impactful life.” Success may look very different for different people, but at the end of the day, if someone can find personal fulfillment and make an impact outside of themselves, whether it be on their family, their community, or the world, I believe that you can not classify them as anything less than successful. 

But Erik, what about those for whom life has dealt a bad hand? What about those who cannot help themselves?

We may not have control over the things that happen to us in life, but we do always have control over our reaction. If life hits you hard, get up, dust yourself, and keep moving. When we start blaming life and making excuses for why we cannot be successful, that is when we see self-perpetuating cycles of under achievement form. It is vital that each individual develops a culture of self-responsibility and grit. The most important step someone can take is not the first step, it is the next step.

Not everyone can be the next Mark Zuckerberg or Lebron James, but I do believe that every human being is capable of achieving something important in their life. As long as we broaden our view on what constitutes personal success, anyone has the capacity to be successful. The only question is whether or not they will make the choices necessary to do so. 

Out of the Valley: The Sun Exchange

Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on all great, new ideas. This is the second post in a series called Out of the Valley where I highlight the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of the most exciting and innovative companies located outside of Silicon Valley, and the talented entrepreneurs that lead them. 

This week we go waaaay out of the valley to feature The Sun Exchange. 

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WHO  

The Sun Exchange was founded by Abraham "Abe" Cambridge. Abe has an MSc in the Science of Climate Change from the University of East Anglia. Abe's first foray into the world of solar energy was as the Technical Director in charge of overseeing the development of the UK's first 2 Megawatt industrial solar array. He later moved to Africa to pursue solar infrastructure opportunities. 

WHAT

The Sun Exchange is a solar energy funding and production platform integrated with blockchain technology. The company plans small-scale solar development projects that aren't large enough to warrant a major development project by a solar infrastructure company. Once the plan has been finalized, The Sun Exchange will list the project on its funding marketplace. A crowd sale then takes place to raise money for the project. Individuals fund a specific amount of the solar cells needed for the completion of the project. Similar to Kickstarter, the project only begins development once it has been fully funded and if it is not funded by the project's deadline, all funds are returned to the individuals that invested. Once a project has been fully funded, The Sun Exchange will move forward with the construction and development of the project. After the project is completed, users will pay The Sun Exchange for their newfound access to a cheap and sustainable source of energy. Backers of the project are compensated by receiving a portion of the users utility payments every month based on the percentage of solar cells that they funded. All of these transactions are done on the blockchain to ensure quick and efficient transactions across international boundaries. 

WHEN

The Sun Exchange was founded in 2015. The company raised a $1.6 million round of Seed funding in October 2017. Investors include Techstars, Kalon Venture Partners, Boost VC, Powerhouse, and Network Society Ventures. 

WHERE

The Sun Exchange is based in Cape Town, South Africa. The successful projects have so far been based in South Africa or neighboring countries. Location is key to the purpose of The Sun Exchange. A country like South Africa receives approximately 220 watts of sunlight per square meter each day. This compares to a maximum of 150 watts per square meter in certain parts of the United States and only 100 watts per square meter in Europe. Africa's relative abundance of sunlight is in sharp contrast to its availability of electricity, as only 2 in 5 Africans have reliable access to electricity every day. This disequilibrium is precisely what The Sun Exchange is attempting to correct. 

WHY

Access to electricity is a fundamental building block to prosperity. Without stable and reliable electricity, any efforts by a country to modernize are severely hamstrung. Lack of electricity disrupts economic growth, hampers the education and development of children, increases food insecurity through a lack of refrigeration, and can even lead to safety concerns as people burn toxic materials for light/warmth. The Sun Exchange tackles this issue in an innovative and sustainable way. By creating a marketplace to fund small, localized projects, The Sun Exchange facilitates the financing and development of projects that are too small for traditional infrastructure investment, but large enough to have an outsized impact on their community. Lately we have seen a trend where blockchain technologies are incorporated into anything and everything as the latest trend du jour. This is a platform where relying on the blockchain not only makes sense, but is a vital piece of the puzzle as investors fund projects across countries and currencies with vastly different levels of legitimacy and dependability. The Sun Exchange is one of the first examples of a "blockchain for good" and could pave the way for more technology solutions that are as positive for society as they are transformational. 

The Sun Exchange delivers on the optimistic promises of the blockchain by facilitating and incentivising the funding of impactful energy solutions to communities that need them.  

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Kittypocolypse

50 years ago people thought that we would be commuting in flying cars. Instead, this is what the future looks like. Welcome to the Kittypocolypse. 

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Our fuzzy friend here is called a CryptoKittie. CryptoKitties is the first Decentralized App (DApp) with widespread use. It is a collectible game built on the Ethereum blockchain. Users buy, sell and breed these collectible digital cats. Each kitten has unique genetic attributes that can be passed on to its offspring. Seem harmless?

Not so much. 

Over the past week, CryptoKittie have been purchased for over $90,000. If you are thinking that this is simple novelty game fueled to unfathomable heights by the unrelenting frenzy for anything and everything Bitcoin/blockchain, well, you'd be right.  But there are some important takeaways from this CryptoKitten craze.

  1. Digital Asset Ownership and Production - Blockchains can secure digital assets and validate their rightful owner. It's what makes the technology so compelling. This is especially useful for assets that are unique and collectible and CryptoKittens are the first example of one such asset. What I find even more interesting about CryptoKitties is the breeding aspect. Juvenile jokes and moral quandaries about the breeding of cartoon cats aside, this is a digital asset that can be used to produce additional digital assets. That fact opens up a fascinating world of possibilities. Might we one day see "factory coins" that are used solely to produce other digital assets? Or maybe "franchise coins" where each coin represents a unit of a greater network and can produce sub-coins for a select few?
  2. Gaming on the Blockchain - The use of markets in games is nothing new. Massively Multiplayer Online games like World of Warcraft or Eve Online have incredibly sophisticated economies. Incorporating the blockchain into gaming marketplaces would open up a whole new world of depth. Blockchains could serve as a link between the economies of the real and digital world while enabling new features like scarcity, absolute ownership, and frictionless trade. We might even begin to see people transition to working and earning their livelihood in game. I know that may sound a bit far-fetched, but this is a new frontier where pictures of cartoon cats are selling for more than cars. Welcome to the wild west. 
  3. Scalability Concerns - One of the greatest challenges to widespread adoption of DApps is the scalability of blockchains like Ethereum. While creative solutions like sharding continue to be developed, we are still nowhere near the level of scale that would be required to sustain a truly viral decentralized application. CryptoKitties has been causing incredible strain on the Ethereum blockchain since its launch. ICO's have been delayed, as the CryptoKitties surged from 4% to 14% of the traffic on the Ethereum blockchain in just a few short days. If these are the issues that are caused by a novelty collectible app, the infrastructure is clearly not ready for more widespread use and adoption. I have tried multiple times to purchase a CryptoKittie and begin my journey towards bone-fide Digital Cat King, but unfortunately the network congestion has thwarted me at every attempt. If scaling issues aren't solved, DApps will never have the sort of seamless and agile user experience that we have grown accustomed to in the digital age. 

Decentralized applications built on the blockchain face significant challenges on their path to widespread adoption. Scale is, and will continue to be, a massive problem as more and more people become interested in taking advantage of the benefits that blockchain technology offers. However, the success of CryptoKitties is undeniable. If this is the potential of a simple collectible game built on the blockchain, imagine the possibilities for other applications. 


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Out of the Valley: Vemo Education

Silicon Valley is the cradle of innovation. It attracts the best and brightest innovators from across the world. But Silicon Valley does not have a monopoly on all great, new ideas. There are brilliant entrepreneurs and exciting companies all over this country and all over the world. 

One of the reasons that I started this blog, was to bring more attention to the startups and entrepreneurs that aren't located in Silicon Valley. This is the first post in a series called Out of the Valley where I will do just that, highlighting the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and whys of the most exciting and innovative companies located outside of Silicon Valley and the talented entrepreneurs that lead them. 

The first company I will be featuring is Vemo Education. 

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Who  

The founders of Vemo Education are Tonio DeSorrento, Bill Brosseau, and Jeff Weinstein. Tonio serves as the company's CEO and Director. Previous to founding Vemo, Tonio spent time on the legal teams of SoFi and Pave as well as practicing law at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. Bill serves as Vemo's VP of Higher Education and has extensive experience with the world of student loans having worked at Georgetown University's Office of Student Financial Services. Jeff is Vemo's VP of Credit and Analytics. He is in charge of both Vemo's credit modeling and its operational loan processes. Jeff has a Ph.D. in economics from UC Berkeley and previously worked in Data Science roles at MeasureOne, Pave, and Xerox. This is a team that combines technical and legal know-how with a foundational knowledge of the student loan market. 

What

Vemo Education is a provider of income-based student loans through the use of Income Share Agreements or ISAs. An ISA will fund all or a portion of a student's college costs and in return, the student agrees to pay a percentage of their future income back to the school after graduating. The terms of this agreement are variable based on the size of the costs being covered and the type of institution, but the average length of the agreement is 10 years with rates generally between 3-7% of a student's post-graduate income. ISAs also have payment caps for high earners and payment floors where students earning below a certain amount will either have their payments postponed or absolved. 

When

Vemo Education was founded in August 2015. The company raised its first seed round in December 2015 with $2 million of backing from investors including University Ventures and Learn Capital. Vemo received two bridge fundings in 2016 and its next major round was a fourth seed round of $7,400,000 lead by University Ventures and NextGen Venture Partners. 

Where

Vemo Education is located in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Oakton, Virginia. The greater D.C. metropolitan area is an up-and-coming tech hub. The district is the most educated region in the nation (data as of the 2010 census which is before I moved to the area, make assumptions about what my presence would do to this figure as you will) and has recently been ranked as the No.3 tech market in the country. With incubators like 1776 and venture firms like Revolution, expect to only see more exciting companies and entrepreneurs coming from our nation's Capitol. 

Why

Outstanding student loan debt stood at over $1.3 trillion as of December 31, 2016. There is a greater amount of student loan debt outstanding than either credit card debt or auto loans and the delinquency rates of student loan debt is significantly higher than any other kind of household debt. This system is not working. College costs have spiraled out of control, increasing over 2x as fast as the rest of the consumer price index since 1980.

Vemo presents an elegant solution by aligning the risks and incentives of students with those of the institutions they attend. Income Share Agreements give students the flexibility to pursue the sort of education and careers they want, without setting themselves into a massive financial hole to begin their adult lives. Universities benefit from a more diverse community (students can pursue the majors they are passionate about instead of the ones that are more "fiscally responsible") and also share in the potential upside of student success. Speaking from experience as a recent college graduate, systems that are able to achieve this student-university incentive alignment are few and far between. Income-based student loans are not for everyone but provide an innovative and exciting option for students and universities.

Vemo Education is disrupting a massive, stale, and bloated industry; and just may help millions of people avoid debt in the process. 


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Welcome

Welcome to A Berg's Eye View! My name is Erik Berg and this is my personal blog. I am very excited to get started on this project and it is my sincere hope that you enjoy your time here. 

A little bit about myself. I am from Denver, Colorado and now live with my beautiful wife in Bethesda, Maryland. We met at the College of William & Mary where I majored in Finance and Public Policy and concentrated in Entrepreneurship. I love to read fantasy novels, play tabletop games, and watch my favorite soccer team, Arsenal F.C., play (and despite their best efforts, occasionally win). 

I have three goals for this blog:

  1. To create thoughtful and compelling content centered around the world of technology, startups, and entrepreneurship. I am absolutely fascinated by "startupland" and will be writing about the companies and market trends that I find intriguing and innovative. I have no background in this world but hope to someday make a career there and I am learning as much as I can about it in the meantime. 
  2. To hone my personal writing. I believe that anytime you take your thoughts and transform them into a reasoned and developed argument or thesis you create an opportunity for growth. Through this medium, I hope to cultivate my personal writing style and strengthen my ability to explain concepts in a direct and easy to understand manner. 
  3. To entertain my readers and have fun with every post!

If at any time I am not moving towards these goals, we will be closing up shop. Until then, you can expect regular posts about the latest startups, technologies, and trends. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, feel free to hit subscribe to receive an email notification whenever I make a post. 

Talk soon.