11 9 / 2014

While on vacation I decided to finally read the timeless classic by Dale Carnegie, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ The book was first published in 1936 and has sold more than fifteen million copies worldwide. It’s the granddaddy of all people skill books. Many of the lessons contained within are still relevant for anyone that deals with people.  Given Venture Capital is a highly social business with thousands of human touch points each year, this book was probably one of the most important I have ever read. 

We have a saying at RRE that our brand is the sum total of the positive and negative interactions that someone has with our team. Every touchpoint matters regardless of the medium (face to face, email, social media, etc.) and those involved (founders, limited partners, other VCs, etc.). At the most fundamental level, we operate in relationship-driven industry so we’re only as good as the interactions that people have with us (and of course the success of our investments). 

When I returned from vacation, I summarized the lessons of the book and shared them with the team at RRE. The purpose was to remind everyone that we can always improve how we interface with the world both professionally and personally. The response from the team was overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I was encouraged by a few of my colleagues to share my notes more broadly given the impact it had internally. 

Below are the notes that I shared with the team earlier this week. As you’ll see, I summarized each chapter into an easy-to-digest lesson so they are actionable and understandable. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to read the book and / or focus on a few of the items to improve how you relate to, communicate with and lead others. Since I’ve started to practice some of Dale’s lessons, I’ve been incredibly more mindful of all my interactions. I only want the same for you. Here’s to more fulfilling, productive and happier relationships! 

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Fundamental techniques in handling people

  1. Don’t criticize, condemn or complain. 
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation. 
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.  

Six ways to make people like you

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people. 
  2. Smile. 
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. 
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. 
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. 
  6. Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely. 

In a nutshell win people to your way of thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. 
  2. Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never say, “you’re wrong.”
  3. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically. 
  4. Begin in a friendly way. 
  5. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately. 
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. 
  7. Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers. 
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other persons point of view. 
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires. 
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives. 
  11. Dramatize your ideas. 
  12. Throw down a challenge. 

Be a leader: how to change people without giving offense or arousing resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation. 
  2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly. 
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. 
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders. 
  5. Let the other person save face. 
  6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. 
  7. Give the person a fine reputation to live up to. 
  8. Use encouragement. Make fault easy to correct. 
  9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest. 

04 9 / 2014

Two years ago I was introduced to Julien Smith, Founder / CEO of Montreal and NYC-based Breather, by my good friend Taylor Davidson. Taylor explained that Breather was building a new type of private cafe that could be accessed via mobile app. I thought the concept sounded crazy and unique at the same time so I agreed to take a meeting with Julien. When I first met Julien and he explained the concept to me, I believed he was absolutely nuts. For those of you who haven’t heard of Breather, it’s a network of private spaces you can access by the hour through an iPhone and Android app. Think of Breather as productive and private space on demand. 

Breather quietly launched in NYC earlier this year and Julien encouraged me to give it a shot. I believe I was one of their first customers. In fact, I was so pleasantly surprised by the experience I decided to write a detailed post about what it’s like to work in a Breather space. I had never experienced anything quite like it. The company created a “full stack” experience that felt like magic. Pull out my phone. Activate the Breather app. Pick a location. Reserve a time slot. Invite colleagues. Turn by turn directions to the space. Arrive at the door. Access the space via the Breather app. And presto! I now have private space all to myself. Here’s where Breather is different: they own the end-to-end experience from the app all the way down to the look and feel of the spaces. The experience is carefully crafted and consistent throughout the network. You can tell the team deeply cares about the user experience. A well-known investor used the service after I encouraged him to give it a try. He texted me immediately afterwards and simply wrote, “It was flawless.”  

During my first meeting with Julien I remember asking him, “what sane person would want to rent a furnished room without a bed by the hour?”  Well, it turns out that thousands of normal people like freelancers, business travelers, artists, and actors see value in accessing productive space on demand. And the early numbers prove it’s working. Total hours booked in the network have nearly quadrupled in the last three months.  Utilization and occupancy rates are increasing. Nearly all the spaces are profitable. Most importantly, the customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and consistent: We love experience and we want more spaces on the map.

I’m incredibly excited to announce that RRE Ventures has led a $6m Series A investment in Julien and the team at Breather.  This continues our theme in investing in tech-enabled real estate (see Hightower and Floored). The funding will be used to enhance the mobile and offline experiences and expand locations on the map. It’s still early days for the company but Julien and I share the belief that the timing is perfect for a service like Breather to thrive.  There are millions of locks globally which will soon be connected.  Everyone has a computer in their pocket. More people are living and working in urban centers. Accessing real estate and space hasn’t changed in decades.  Workers are now mobile more than ever before.  Distributed organizations are en vogue. Freelancers are making up larger share of the labor pool.  For the first time in history, a service like Breather is possible. 

If Starbucks created the third space (the public cafe), Breather has created the fourth space. There are now more than a dozen locations to unlock in NYC and three locations just launched in San Francisco.  I encourage you to give it a try and would love to hear what you think about the experience. 

28 5 / 2014

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Over the course of the next two months, I’m planning a dive deep into a few verticals within health tech. Healthcare is clearly one of the largest markets with overabundance of problems as evidenced by the escalating costs. Total healthcare spending in the US is expected to reach $4.8 trillion in 2021 or 20% of GDP.  To put things in perspective, that number was $75 billion in 1970.  The costs are growing out of control but I believe that tech will play a significant role in the way that healthcare is delivered over the next decade.  I’m passionate about this project and improving healthcare because my family was underinsured when I was growing up and our country’s long-term well-being depends on it.  

To aid me in my quest, I’m looking to hire a Summer Research Assistant for a six to eight week project. I’d like to partner with someone who is passionate about healthcare and has a strong desire to get exposure to Venture Capital.  

Specifically, our Summer Research Assistant will: 

  • Research macro trends affecting healthcare and technology
  • Create market maps for select segments
  • Assist with due diligence on “live” opportunities 
  • Present findings to investment team 

There is no “right” or typical background for this role. However, the ideal candidate will have: 

  • June and July wide open (grad students and talent in transition)
  • A degree in health administration, pre-med, or economics from a top university
  • 2-5 years of experience at a health tech company, consulting firm or investment bank
  • Demonstrated passion for healthcare and technology
  • A balance between being analytical and imaginative
  • An excellent network in the health tech community

You’re probably a good fit if you: 

  • Use your nights and weekends to read about healthcare and tech
  • Believe our country deserves better than Healthcare.org
  • Enjoy researching and presenting markets, trends and companies 
  • Spent just as much time in the lab as the classroom
  • Don’t have an ego and genuinely care about working with great people

The role will be based at RRE’s midtown office, and the start date is immediate.  Competitive compensation will be provided. 

Candidates should email research@rre.com with a resume, a brief bio, optional links to content (e.g. LinkedIn, Twitter, blog, etc.), and a description of why you would be an excellent hire.  

22 5 / 2014

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Several years ago when I was at Lerer Ventures, Sam Gerstenzang, our summer intern, recommended  that I meet with Raul Gutierrez, Founder CEO of a Brooklyn-based creative studio called Tinybop.  When Sam explained that Tinybop was building educational apps for kids, I was immediately skeptical because I’ve seen hundreds of companies in the space and my identical twin brother founded a children’s media studio, CloudKid.  After some back and forth with Sam, I begrudgingly agreed to meet with Raul but promised that I would keep an open mind. Over the course of the next two years, Raul and I spent countless hours talking about the future of children’s media and his vision for building the next great education brand.  To Raul’s credit, he was able to transform me from a skeptic to a believer.  Despite the space being hyper competitive with thousands of app publishers, I truly believe that Tinybop is the one percent of the one percent.  That’s why I’m incredibly excited and proud to announce that RRE has led Tinybop’s Series A Financing with participation from TwoSigma, KEC, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures and Kapor Capital.  

So what exactly is Tinybop? Tinybop is building a constellation of highly immersive educational apps that are global, universal and timeless. Each application, along with their teaching guides and marketing collateral, is translated into more than 50 languages. They’re one of the first studios I’ve seen that is taking advantage of the collapsing digital divide. Additionally, the content is universal and evergreen, meaning the topics are relevant on every continent and will never fall out of favor with parents and educators. The company’s goal is to build a global media brand that teaches kids in every country about the world through play and exploration.  Every single person at Tinybop deeply cares about education, design, creativity and community.  The values of the team shine through their products when you experience them. The children’s space is littered with thousands of mediocre apps so the team at Tinybop is always pushing new boundaries with their apps. 

Tinybop’s first series, The Explorer’s Library, helps children answer fundamental questions about the world and themselves.  You can think of this series as the World Book Encyclopedia for the mobile age.  Their first app, The Human Body, has been downloaded more than five million times in over one hundred and fifty countries.  Additionally, The Human Body was named as App of the Week in September 2013 and Best of 2013 by Apple in dozens of countries.  I’m also excited to announce Tinybop has just launched their second app in the Explorer’s Library, Plants.  It’s an interactive diorama of the world’s biomes.  Trying to describe the app won’t do it any justice so here’s the app’s trailer.   

Plants by Tinybop from Tinybop on Vimeo.

Pretty cool, eh?  The Human Body and Plants are just the beginning. The company’s product roadmap is massive and ambitious.  While we’re just starting our journey together, I’m inspired, honored and thrilled to help Raul and his team educate and inspire tens of millions of kids in every corner of the globe.  Please join me in welcoming Tinybop to the RRE family.  

12 5 / 2014

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I recently finished reading the seminal leadership book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh, the legendary 49ers Head Coach. In 1979 when Walsh took over the 49ers, the franchise was the laughing stock of the NFL as it managed to win only two games that season. However, in less than two years, Walsh led the 49ers from last place to Super Bowl Champs. A true Cinderella story. When Walsh left the franchise ten years later, the team had won three Super Bowl Championships and completed perhaps the greatest run in NFL history. 

How did Walsh fuel this transformation and build one of the great NFL dynasties? He credited his “Standards of Performance” as the catalyst for driving organizational change and maintaining a high level of performance during his tenure with the team. Walsh codified his “Standards of Performance” and drove them throughout every level of the organization including the administrative staff.  Within the first year, there was a dramatic shift in the way that everyone approached and performed their jobs.  Nothing short of excellence and a team first attitude would be tolerated.  

Without further ado, here are Bill Walsh’s Standards of Performance:  

  • Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement
  • Demonstrate respect for each person in the organization
  • Be deeply committed to learning and teaching
  • Be fair
  • Demonstrate character
  • Honor the direct connection between details and improvement, relentlessly seek the latter
  • Show self-control, especially under pressure
  • Demonstrate and prize loyalty
  • Use positive language and have a positive attitude
  • Take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort
  • Be willing to go the extra distance for the organization
  • Deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation
  • Promote internal communication that is both open and substantive
  • Seek poise in myself and those I lead
  • Put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own
  • Maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high
  • Make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark

Coach Walsh’s standards and values clearly set the tone for the organization.  It’s a huge reason why The 49ers organization went from worst place to Super Bowl Champs.  As the title of the book suggests, Bill and the team weren’t focused on the score at the end of the game but rather all the things that happen leading up to the game and behind the scenes. Treating teammates with respect.  Putting in an extra hour in the weight room. Answering the phone with professionalism.  Perfecting technique.  Studying film.  Dressing appropriately. There are hundreds of examples. As my former partner, Ben Lerer, once said to me, “It’s not about the light at the end of the tunnel…it’s about the tunnel.” The 49ers under Bill Walsh embodied this mindset. 

I fundamentally believe that entrepreneurs and executives should go through an exercise to develop your own set of standards and values to drive and guide the organization.  These should come from you but it’s important to seek input from your team as well as steal ones from companies and leaders you respect.  Write them down.  Share them with your team. Rinse and repeat until you’re comfortable with the list.  Remember, Bill Walsh perfected his over a thirty year career so don’t expect to get it right the first time. As the organization grows and scales the list will likely change so keep an open mind.      

I’m encouraging RRE to rethink what drives our venture firm.  Additionally, I’ve purchased copies for every founder I have backed and everyone at RRE.  The hope is to fuel thought and discussion at the companies I’m closest to. That said, what are some startups you admire that have developed their own standards of performance and values?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. 

29 4 / 2014

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the “Uberfication" of the U.S. service economy. Given the positive response from founders, investors and the broader tech community, my partners at RRE invited me to speak about this investment theme at our annual meeting this afternoon.  As part of my talk, I prepared a high level presentation which summarizes the opportunity (see embed below).  As always, would love to hear your questions, comments and / or feedback.  We’re always looking to get smarter about how mobile is simplifying our lives and reshaping our economy.     

On Demand Everything from Steve Schlafman
Photo Credit: Uber.com

24 4 / 2014

Over the last three months, my partner Adam Ludwin and I have been spending a good chunk of our time researching and thinking about decentralized technologies and networks.  I’ve just started my quest to understand exactly what’s going on but believe ‘decentralization’ will emerge as a mega trend in the next two to three years.  We’re not only seeing decentralized innovation around the block chain and mesh networks like OpenGarden (global) and NYCmeshnet (local) but also around storage and content delivery. My Spidey Senses tell me implications of this trend will fundamentally transform the way in which we all connect to the internet and exchange value.  It’s pretty hard not to get excited about this shift. 


RRE is actively making bets in these types of emerging technologies so I’m trying to learn as much as I can by devouring blogs, talking to founders and listening to podcasts every night.  In my quest to learn the basics, I recently stumbled upon a great podcast titled Let’s Talk Bitcoin and was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the latest installment features David Irvine, Founder / CEO of MaidSafe, one of the leading proponents for decentralized computing. In his talk David explains why decentralized architectures are good for the internet, the story behind MadeSafe and his philosophy on building a platform that creates rather than extracts value.  

For those of you who don’t have thirty minutes to listen to David’s talk here are some of my favorite nuggets:  

“I then realized that if all the computers are connected together and we’re suppling all of that computing resource, then the people should have full rights to use that. And the deal of joining that (system) shouldn’t be between you and a third party company. It should be between you and the internet. So we came to figure what we have to do is get all the computers to join together in some kind of global cyber brain. Kinda like what the block chain does for trade.  It’s really to get all the computers to join together in a manner that they could pervade all of the world’s (computing) resources to every individual person. And that’s really where the MaidSafe story started.” 

“With MaidSafe there were three really hard things that I needed to solve. The first was how do you make data so secure that no one can read it except for you and how would you store that data on multiple computers that switch on and off the whole time. The second part was really what does a cyber brain do, what’s it look like. How can all the computers recognize each other to be able to tell is a computer good or bad, is it doing a good or bad job? That autonomous network was a very difficult part of it. And the last problem which was probably the toughest one when we have highly encrypted data on a network that’s autonomous and looks after itself: how do you login to it when there are no servers and location to send a message to?” 

“This system when you join, nobody knows you’ve joined. The network is aware that you’re there and it can communicate information to your friends that only you know. And that’s really the way the internet should have been at the very start. It set out to go that way but it fell by the wayside when companies came in and started to try monetize this sort of system and advertise to you and take your information and steal your data and spy on you. That’s not a very natural way to run an internet. It’s a terrible way to run a network. The network should be run for the people by the people.  That’s what MaidSafe has been able to achieve.” 

“If we make this free to the whole world then the other five billion that don’t have internet connectivity are people who are off the internet can all come back on it. If someone down in Africa or some other third world country can get access to this data and access to this communications system and start curing diseases then that’s a phenomenal return for us.  And that’s as important to us as a solid business model.” 

As you can see, David’s vision for the internet is guided by strong values such as freedom, accessibility, affordability, privacy, community and fairness. Based on his talk and my preliminary research, I believe we’re still in the very early stages of this shift given the infrastructure is just being deployed. To steal an analogy from the nineteenth century, the steam rail locomotive has been designed but not yet optimized and the rails haven’t been laid down. All that said, the advancements in decentralized technologies like the block chain are evolving so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. That’s what I love about it.  Everything feels so fluid and new. In the coming months and year, I plan to spend a fair amount of my time diving deeper into decentralized technologies, the numerous whitespace opportunities and the existing industries that will likely fall victim to their diffusion. If you’re also passionate about the impact that this trend will have on our world, I’d love to hear your thoughts and explore where we are heading with all of this. 

14 4 / 2014

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Today we are launching Update My VC - a modern guide on how founders can easily update and keep in touch with your investors. At RRE we always strive to provide the best possible support to our companies, but we realize you’re slammed building product, growing your business and recruiting the best talent. We also understand the last thing you want to think about and have time for is sending a lengthly update to your investors. 

To make this process easier for you, we’ve created a Tumblr blog that outlines the perfect investor update. Our template includes Highlights, Lowlights, Product, KPIs/Core Metrics, Business Development, Hiring, Financing, Press, Help Wanted, and Kudos. The site even has an Email Template button that auto generates a blank investor update as a new email message.

Additionally, we’ve included a library of resources including useful blog posts, slideshares, and Quora discussions.  Our expectation is to update this library so the most useful content and advice is all in one place.  We view this as an evolving site and community so feel free to share your questions, comments and feedback with community@rre.com

Finally, I’d like to thank Amrit Richmond and Kane Hsieh from the RRE team for their help in launching this site. 

08 4 / 2014

"Who knows what force gnaws at us, telling us that our accomplishments, no matter how sensational, are not enough; that we need to do more?"

-Arthur Ashe, Days of Grace

04 4 / 2014

Since I joined RRE Ventures last fall, I’ve spent time researching mobile on-demand services that we are able to access with a push of a button. “On-demand mobile services” (ODMS) is a broad category so I believe it’s important to start with a definition.  My friend Semil Shah defines ODMS as “apps which aggregate consumer demand on mobile devices, but fulfill that demand through offline services.”  I’ll take it one step further:  ODMS deliver a “closed loop” experience by collapsing the value chain including discovery, order, payment, fulfillment (offline but within owned network) and confirmation. In the pre-mobile era we had to search yellow pages (or google), find a provider, call  or email that provider, wait to connect with someone, schedule a convenient time, hope the provider arrives on time, and then pay with a credit card or cash.  Thankfully, a new array of mobile services removes all of that friction we were used to experiencing. Welcome to the uberification of our service economy: 

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As you can see from the market map, we now have on demand services for: 
The “uberification” of our economy signals a fundamental shift in the way that local services are discovered and fulfilled.  In my research I’ve mapped more than 70 startups redefining the segments listed above.  Since 2009, Venture Capitalists have poured more than $1.75B into these companies (excluding Groupon, Seamless and OpenTable) and I expect this will continue to grow.  This funding figure is conservative since CrunchBase, Mattermark, and CB Insights don’t have complete funding information for each company. Additionally, I excluded more than 30 “online to offline services” that haven’t launched a mobile app but likely will in the next twelve to eighteen months. Some of these services include MakeSpace, Paintizen, Boxbee, Moveloot, Homejoy, Manicube, and Blue Apron. Finally, I decided to exclude apps where demand is fulfilled digitally such as Doctor on Demand.  

Despite being three to four years into the ODMS trend, I’m super bullish on the road that lies ahead and I believe there are still plenty of untapped opportunities. For example, apps are emerging in categories like elderly care, medicine, real estate, and security. Additionally, there are a variety of B2B services emerging such as office cleaning, supply replenishment, tech support, and fleet management.  Finally, a sub-trend I’m observing is startups that create “infrastructure” to power a variety of ODMS. One company that comes to mind is YC-backed Rickshaw which solves delivery and logistics for a number of the services in the above market map.  

There are common challenges when building an ODMS such as offline logistical complexity, low barriers to entry, customer acquisition at scale, and aggregation of regional / local supply (see Exec and Cherry for case studies).  But the entrepreneurs and companies that overcome these challenges await numerous multi-billion dollar market opportunities.  The U.S. economy is largely driven by the service sector so it’s only a matter of time until all of our services are accessible via our mobile devices.  The implications are huge for large companies like Google and Craigslist as well as thousands of regional and local service providers.  Hundreds of billions of dollars of enterprise value are up for grabs.  At RRE, we have been spending a lot of time thinking about ODMS and would to hear how you think the space will evolve over the next 12 to 24 months.