Former Econ-Math-Dance student and NYC transplant living as a tech nerd in San Francisco. Obsessed with all things foodie, shiny and/or cathartic.

I'm currently a VC at Institutional Venture Partners, a late-stage tech investment fund based in the Bay Area. Views expressed are my own. Agree / disagree? Drop me a line!
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I’ll always remember how excited I was every time Mary Meeker’s report came out — especially when I was still a banker at Barclays. It not only contained tons of useful market data (a gold mine for analysts), but it also marked the steady passage of time. You could always count on a new Meeker presentation every 6 months, or so, and the topics she discussed often had a nice continuity. Today, these reports are a pleasant reminder of how lucky and excited I am to work with companies that will shape our future.

Some of my initials thoughts:

  • Slide 8: Very surprising that PC users are still lagging global TV users. This data shows that technology platform shifts can leapfrog each other. The “next big thing” (in this case, PC’s) may not be as big as the “next next big thing” (mobile phones). 
  • Slide 9: It’s no longer enough to be the “largest in the U.S.” — companies need to think globally. It’s disappointing that those of us in the Valley still tend of think of tech as being very US-centric. For example, most people can name tons of early-stage startups in SF, but haven’t heard of companies like Alibaba or Baidu. Meeker goes long on China later in the presentation (slides 127 - 136).
  • Slide 10: If it wasn’t clear enough already, platform wars are over and Android is a clear leader (though not without its problems).
  • Slide 15: Meeker has underlined the disconnect between “time spent” and “ad spent” for years now. The hold that print advertising has comes from the strength of traditional advertiser/publisher relationships and the traditional budget split between branding and performance campaigns. 
  • Slide 55: Meeker positions the “Internet Trifecta” as getting a critical mass of content, community, and commerce. I believe these criteria mainly fit e-commerce companies. Other consumer web startups, such as Dropbox or Uber, have focused instead on delivering unparalleled value to the user, without the 3 C’s.
  • Slide 161: This slide is probably the most valuable to founders & entrepreneurs. Particularly this piece of advice: great companies grow revenue, make profits, and invest for the future. 

I’m an investor, and since most of Meeker’s analysis is backward looking (historical trends and “re-imagined” use cases), I try synthesize some of her forward-looking takeaways. Most prominently, Meeker’s presentation sheds light on three major markets: Online Video, Healthcare, and Education. Some of our most recent IVP investments tie directly to these themes, such as ZEFR and General Assembly, and I’m excited to discover other great startups in these verticals.

(via thelweiss)

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Both the Internet and my own circle of friends have debated this issue to death (so price. much social.) And as Fred Wilson puts it, 

It isn’t clear if the next thing is virtual reality, the internet of things, drones, machine learning, or something else. Larry doesn’t know. Zuck doesn’t know. I don’t know. But the race is on to figure it out. 

What we can expect, however, is increased VC interest in companies that could potentially bring us a new future. This is true for companies who are both competitive and complimentary to products by Nest or Oculus. Competitive companies stand to gain from these acquisitions because VC’s know that it’s rarely a one-horse race. Complimentary companies stand to gain even more as many tech incumbents have already signaled that this is where the future is going. 

I’m bullish on VR, and FB/Oculus’ upcoming challenges will prove whether the Oculus Rift is more of a Segway or an iPhone. The best step that the iPhone took was to create an ecosystem that was both open and controlled — any third party could build on top of the iPhone, but the quality of the apps were held to a high bar.

There are startups that are already building technologies that would be a great fit for the Oculus Rift. Thalmic Labs, based in Canada, has created the Myo armband for accurate and granular gesture control. Nymi and InteraXon are two bio-sensing startups — they measure heartbeat and brain activity, respectively, to control a connected device. And the quantified fitness space continues to grow with startups like Push and Hexoskin.

As I look at the new crop of hardware startups that will help create the next platform, it’s easy to see two things:

  1. As Chris Dixon said, the next big thing will start out looking like a toy
  2. Many of these next-generation hardware startups are based in Canada, where cost of living is cheaper, recruiting is less competitive, and the government has been supportive of startups by offering R&D tax incentives and offering a start-up visa

From where I stand, the future is both fun (toy!) and friendly (Canada!). I, for one, cannot wait. 

I’m only at the first milestone. Such a long runway ahead of me (and ahead of you, too!)

When I evaluate product, either at the early or late stage of a startup, I’m always looking to see if the product has the potential to permanently modify user behavior outside of the product itself

A few examples of this:

  • Instagram : double-tap
    Apple designer Bill Atkinson devised the double-click, and soon it became the de-facto way to open files across all desktop GUI’s (Windows, Linux). The clever folks at Instagram appropriated it for their Mobile application to “like” a post. I’ve found myself mindlessly double-tapping photos in other applications. (NB: In light of this, I’m not sure I agree with secret’s choice to make the “like post” gesture as a left-to-right swipe.)
  • Netflix : binge consumption
    The way today’s content travels is much more binary — you’ll either never see the light of day or go viral (think: YouTube videos, 2048, any Upworthy article). To put it differently, today’s content distribution models enable and encourage binge consumption. Netflix is one of the first large tech companies to realize and capitalize on it by releasing traditional content in a way that enables binge consumption. Will that eventually put pressure on other content distributors?
  • Uber : pay through app
    It has become so easy to take an Uber that I’ve found myself walking out of regular cabs without paying. Embarrassment aside, it comes to show that Uber is creating a new behavior of seamless payment, something that Square and other startups have been attempting to do. 

The best products eventually change user behavior because they simplify those existing user behaviors; making it so natural that users have incorporated the habits into their regular lives. 

YC’s FFC was one of the more enjoyable conferences I’ve been to in a while. The attendees were great, the format was brisk, and the content shared was by and large very helpful. 

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At one point, there was a panel of founders discussing the topic of fundraising. Two things hit me:

  • It was weird. I have never seen an all-female panel before, especially not at any previous tech conferences. The fact that seeing an all-female panel seemed strange surprised me in and of itself — even I, as a female technologist of sorts, had become used to and complacent of the male-dominated nature of my field.
  • It was enlightening. As a VC, I rarely hear such candid tales of fundraising from the entrepreneur’s point of view. Since I learned so much from this short session, I would definitely encourage any entrepreneur, aspiring or otherwise, to sit in on a couple VC-focused events. After all, EdTech vendors often attend Educator conferences and likewise, many industry conferences include both vendors & customers as attendees. In a way, VC’s and entrepreneurs are simultaneously each other’s customers — so why not get to know your customer better?
  • It was inspiring. All of the female founders speaking at the conference were extremely humble — they had a “if I could do it, so could you” attitude, and many went at length to highlight their failures and inadequacies. It was a great reminder that I should probably be building, too.

With PG in the spotlight, many people forget that Jessica Livingston was also a co-founder. She shared her story her responsibilities as the sole nontechnical co-founder (delivering AC units to YC companies!) and juggling being a founder and a mom. She also highlighted that YC has been trying to fund more female founders over the years. 

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TaskRabbit is getting disrupted, in the same way craigslist was just a few years ago. Andrew Parker at Spark Capital once posted this graphic showing how craiglist is being replaced by a host of startups, a single vertical at a time. image

The market of low-skill services is also being displaced by a crop of new entrants:

  • Postmates: getting food delivery from any restaurants
  • Washio: drycleaning and laundry delivered to your door
  • Homejoy: professional home cleaning for $20 / hour
  • Shout: location-centric marketplace for intangible goods (such as your spot in the Cronut line)

It has always been surprising to me that TaskRabbit never caught on as much as it should have. There are tons of daily tasks everyone goes through that nobody necessarily enjoys: picking up dry cleaning, mowing the lawn, putting together IKEA furniture… When I propose TaskRabbit to my friends, however, there is always a lukewarm reception even though I believe the monetary trade-off is a no-brainer for them. A couple of reasons why I think folks are slightly fuzzy on the whole concept:

  • Unclear use cases: the TaskRabbit landing page doesn’t have key examples on how you can use TaskRabbit. I think a great example of demonstrated use cases is the Venmo homepage, where they show a live stream of transactions their users are completing. 
  • Friction in negotiation:The beauty of mobile apps lies in their simplicity in getting a task done — there is no back-and-forth, no talking to a human. The one-time I used Taskrabbit, I had to evaluate all the offers I received and also discuss the task with the selected TaskRabbit. For apps geared towards single use cases, this friction is reduced dramatically.

A suggestion for TaskRabbit is to perhaps go the Uber route and do some fun, single use case promotions for holidays like Valentine’s Day — something like a flat $20 delivery fee for a box of chocolates.

In today’s world, the cost of switching from one service to another is almost frictionless for the consumer. It makes very little difference to me to switch between something like Postmates and Homejoy instead of using a generalist application like TaskRabbit.

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When the HTC First was released in early 2013, critics scoffed at the idea of a so-called “Facebook Phone”. It didn’t help that the product appeared half-baked — and many considered it to be Facebook’s first flop. AT&T quietly dropped the phone from its offerings mere months after launch. 

Today’s announcement of Facebook’s $19B acquisition of Whatsapp reveals that Facebook hasn’t given up on taking over our phones — but taking a much more hacker-like approach. It went from a standalone, all-encompassing app to a network of apps, including Instagram, Messenger, Paper, and now Whatsapp. That’s not including other mobile assets that Facebook attempted to buy (Snapchat, Waze, etc.) On Messenger, one of the coolest, least-known features is the Talking Heads. It allows you to include a contact on your Android home screen, to quickly launch a conversation with him/her. 

The platform wars are over — iOS and Android have emerged as the winners. But true to its hacker DNA, Facebook still wants to take over the mobile experience, one product/feature/use case at a time.

For me as an investor, the much more interesting question is, what’s next?

  • Storage: The idea of storing files/messages/photos/etc. is central to the phone experience. Facebook acquired the now defunct Drop.io team in late 2010 as most likely an acq-hire. I think they’re still looking for this functionality — maybe Dropbox or Hightail?
  • Location: Gowalla and Hot Potato were two other acq-hires, but Facebook places never took off and they were outbid for Waze. Perhaps Foursquare, Factual, Yelp, or PlaceIQ? This one I’m unsure about, since I don’t have visibility into how robust the Facebook Places data set is.
  • Music / Video: Google has Youtube, and Apple has iTunes. Consuming media is a highly social experience, so will Facebook want a content distribution platform as well? Hulu, Soundcloud, Rdio, and Oyster come to mind. 
  • Commerce: The shopping experience on mobile is incredibly compelling and we already know how CTR and conversion rates can be higher than those on the desktop. There are a few startups powering commerce on Facebook’s native platform, such as Soldsie and Chirpify. Short of purchasing another asset like Pinterest, I’m curious to see how Facebook will proceed in this vertical.
  • Calendar / Events: When I think about what products I use the  most, Google Calendar is a top contender. Facebook Events haven’t integrated with my calendar app very well — and there’s definitely an opportunity to better discover events, a la Eventbrite  
  • What else do you use your phone for?

10% of Facebook’s market cap is a lot to pay for an acquisition (of only 32 engineers!) But when I start thinking about paying 10% for a messaging platform that is so core to our mobile experience — it starts looking like a steal.

I wrote a post this week and Alex published it as a guest post on his blog. Go check it out!

alexstechthoughts:

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Jordan Kong is an Associate at Institutional Venture Partners, a late-stage venture fund in Menlo Park. She previously studied at Columbia University, interned at several NYC tech startups, and did a two-year stint on Wall Street. Jordan blogs regularly, tweets frequently, and takes photos

There’s been tons of emotional outrage and blog posts on the repercussions and implications of Uber’s price surges. Uber’s been addressing this criticism with the protest that price surging is just a result of free market forces. As an Economist by training, I can’t help but add my two cents, because as an Economist by training, I also know that free market mechanisms rarely work as perfectly as they do in textbooks. 

  • Inelastic Supply: Uber explains that by raising prices during demand peaks, they are “putting more Ubers on the road” by increase driver incentives. Uber supply, however, is not perfectly elastic — there is a limited supply of Uber drivers in a given location and each driver is often faced with other constraints that doesn’t let her respond immediately to increased demand. (In Economic terms, while Uber attempts to move the supply curve to the right, it can mostly only move along the same supply curve.) If Uber’s market mechanics were elastic, when we would see price surging for just the amount of time it takes supply to increase to meet demand. Instead, I’m pretty sure price surging typically occurs for the entirety of a peak demand period.
  • Driver Incentives: I’m not even certain that price surges align driver incentives properly. Sure, getting 3x the fare seems great, but I would imagine that demand probably drops materially during price surges. Perhaps not enough to completely off-set the fare multiple (ie. demand doesn’t drop 66% in a 3x price surge situation), but probably very close to it. 
  • Income Targeting: While this is a minor point, income targeting may help explain some of the supply inelasticity. Economic research has shown that taxi drivers tend to be target earners — meaning that regardless of demand, taxi drivers tend to work until their daily income target are met. By the same token, drivers who have already hit their daily income targets will likely stop working, instead of increasing their hours to meet higher demand.

Uber also insists that price surging assures rides to those who need the rides the most, but it’s difficult to take that statement at face value. For one, Uber’s price surging is done as a multiple of the base fare, but a more accurate way of pricing according to demand would be as a % of income. The latter is an obviously more difficult methodology, but wouldn’t automatically out-price lower-income customers who may just “need” that ride more than someone with more purchasing power. At its core, Uber’s price surging is essential to its mission of guaranteeing rides when you need it, only because it out-prices the majority of the market.

I’m disappointed by Travis Kalanick’s comparison of Uber’s price surging to the high cost of air travel during the holidays. Sure, the supply/demand mechanics work in a similar way, but airlines are faced with constrained supply in a way Uber insists it’s not. Moreover, airlines probably have one of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings and probably isn’t and shouldn’t be what Uber aspires to be.

I’m an avid Uber user in San Francisco and will continue to be. I have, however, been surprised by some friends (mostly in NYC) who have decided to no longer use Uber due to the politics of price surging.