Friday, January 20, 2017

My Americanism

I'm a citizen of the United States of America by birth.

I've noticed some things shift as I've grown up here in the States (I'm 43 years old now). I don't fully understand how they've impacted me/us (my fellow citizens), but, I've found them notable over the years.

The Draft

Conscription has seen many changes over our short history, but when I think about "the draft" my parent's generation grew up with, compared with the "voluntary armed forces" system I grew up under, I realize that I've aged through a system with my generational peers that has a less connected sense of community. My parents grew up in a world where it was theoretically possible to be in a fox-hole with a fellow American that they'd never met before, pointing their guns at "the enemy" and risking their lives together. Living with this possibility would undoubtedly create some notion of common bond on a primal level. My generation, and forward at the moment, jettisoned this notion, and I think that caused a subtle fracture in our national community. Theoretically, the wealthy of my parent's generation could be fighting for their lives side-by-side with the poor, so, both extremes had to manage some level of civility in day-to-day life.

Well... not so much anymore. Not that the wealthy and the poor broke bread too often anyway, but if you are in one of those camps and you found yourself asking for help from the other in time of war, you'd want to have had things been civil between each other prior. Today, if the odds are near zero that the two camps would have to fight together, there's little survival connective tissue at play, and hence an adverse impact on "community" unfolds. Weave income disparity into the picture, and things get pretty rough.

Income Disparity

Over the course of my lifetime, the gap between the rich and the poor has become a canyon. Rather than spew the same stats we already constantly hear, reference http://inequality.org/income-inequality/ for some wild data. The point is, that income/wealth disparity fuels communal disconnect and discontent.

Mortgage Crisis

Home ownership was the "American Dream" for a few generations, and it turned into a nightmare in 2008 on my generation's watch. The Emperor wound up not having any clothes on for my generation, as mortgage debt markets collapsed onto themselves. The best characterization of the crisis came in the form of The Big Short (the book is best, but the movie is really good too). The primary economic motivator/engine for a few generations was manipulated on a scale that scarred my generation. The math has turned around for the most part, but that's no help to the majority of an entire generation. Importantly, nothing has taken the place of home-ownership for my generation; many people aren't pursuing "the dream" anymore. This has a profoundly confusing impact on our macro economic models.

Transportation Infrastructure Projects

Bridges, roads, rail, airports are falling apart in the United States. These are, or could be, the things that comprise the literal backbone of a society. They're crumbling here.

K-12 Education Spending/Infrastructure

Like our transportation infrastructure, the public school infrastructure is a dilapidated embarrassment. Our generations to come are educated by teachers often living near the poverty line, and in most cases even on the high-end of the salary spectrum, aren't being paid nearly what they should be. Our children go to school in buildings that are literally falling apart. You get what you pay for.

Higher Education Costs

Today, one can legitimately ask the question "is it 'worth it' to spend a small fortune to send my child[ren] to college?" This was a preposterous question for my parents to ask. Of course your kids went to college! For many today, getting through college without significant debt is not even feasible, and whether or not the economics come out on-balance in the end is in question.

Drones

We now have the infrastructure to lay waste to villages of people without ever seeing them face to face, or even having troops on the ground. It's a remote controlled killing machine, that we use for our needs, and that we let our friends, and enemies in some instances, borrow. Think about that for a moment.

Healthcare

The insurance infrastructure has injected a layer between the consumer, and the service provider, that is not rooted in any sort of reality of actual costs of goods sold. Instead, the prices we pay are a function of insurance models and abstractions of what insurance company costs are, not what pharmaceuticals or medical device manufacturers spend to create their products. Huh?!? How did we get here?

On The Bright Side

We finally regulated against credit card companies marketing to vulnerable college students, and credit card debt is at new lows. While I understand this can have adverse impact on macro economic money supplies like M1/M2/M3, I'll take that punishment over generations of people trying to claw their way out of revolving credit lines.

We might start to see some infrastructure spending. I just hope it's the right blend of private/public spend. I consider myself a capitalist, but here are some projects that simply should not turn profit... sorry.

Private industry may spark some innovation at scales that could cause significant shifts in how we operate as a country/world. Hyper-loop-like ground transportation projects, and the privatization of space transportation come to mind.

Blockchain backed currencies (e.g. Bitcoin). Theoretically, free flowing currency could yield market efficiencies that produce some good "trickle down" as money moves without fee burdens. Obvious downside here is money used for evil things, and tax dodging, moves unencumbered.

While I am saddened by the fact that we have such a vulgar, dishonest, childish, unintelligent, hurtful, hateful person holding our Presidential office at the moment, I myself sometimes employ the bull-in-a-china-shop approach to try and change thinking and old policies and ways of doing. I think there can be some accidental good that comes out of policy shifts in the future as a result of this Presidency. I'm just saddened we have the person in that role that we do, and I hope he, and the associated Congress, don't lay waste to what little we're hanging onto in the process.

There are moments in our lives in which we have to band together as peers and as a community, with disregard for our "leaders." I believe this is one of those moments in our history. _We_ must, peacefully, do what's right for our country and our people and our friends and peers and fellow citizens. What we've done by letting this person hold the position they now do, has cast a spotlight on the deep ineptitude of a broad swath of people we have, in many cases, asked to lead us in the form of our government. We have to do what we know is right, not what our politicians model for us.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

June Oven: First Reaction

I gave up pre-ordering/kickstarting a long time ago because the commitment-to-successful-delivery ratio got too low. One of the few to pull through though was June Oven, and mine arrived yesterday.

It's been a great initial 24-hrs. So far I've reheated pizza (nice to do that sans microwave or heating up a full-sized range), roasted a whole chicken with vegetables (family dinner), and knocked together a bacon/egg/english muffin breakfast sandwich for my boy this morning.

While I can't speak to actual longevity obviously, all the materials feel rock solid and durable. The UI/touchscreen works great.

Dinner last night turned out awesome! We're a family that orders-in/eats-out a lot. Over the past year we've been working on cooking at home more (Blue Apron & Plated have been a _huge_ help for that). With the successful (easy to prep/cook (fire and forget) and everyone loved the end-result) chicken dinner last night, I can see June yielding even more meals at home; stoked!

One of June's features is time-lapse video of the actual cooking; here's last night's dinner and before/after stills at the end of this post.

Only issues I've had have been around iOS-app-to-oven connection; handful of "not found" scenarios that eventually go away.

I love thinking that the power of machine learning (food identification) is enhancing my cooking experience. We've come a long way baby!




Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Day In Pictures: Tuesday

Steve Pockross who's happy running blogmutt these days. Wonderful Valley transplant whose roots are now in place.
Christian Braun who's been building something awesome in hobbydb with intense clarity and focus. 
Srinivasa Venkataraman (Venky) just moved to Boulder to nail a VPE role at Sovrn. Turned me on to good Indian dosa in my own backyard, and reminded me of how awesome "the bubble" was in the late '90s in the Valley.

Fortuitous blast from the past at a JP Morgan presentation this morning; Todd Lockwood from high-school looking sharp.

Dana Ferrero Spaulding getting piles of money and the people who know how to manage it together in one room. 
Michael Platt (Cooley)... m&a legal mastermind. I'm trying to figure out how/why the two of us find ourselves in the same room as often as we do.
Brian Lehman... fun discussion around consulting vs. FTE approaches to getting things done. Awesome data viz mind.

Fun end-of-day connect with Matt Blomstedt. He's on a mission with SpringTime Ventures. I love talking to people taking a risk.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How Did Gnip Get The Twitter Deal?

I get asked this question a surprising number of times, so I'm going to try answering it here in hopes of killing multiple future birds with one stone. The question comes in the "hey, can I pick your brain for thirty minutes" form, and winds up in an email exchange with me conveying the following, so, blog post time. I thought the question would've died off by now.

The Summary 

Gnip got the exclusive Twitter public raw content resyndication deal by building functionality our customers needed, and effectively illustrating our resulting reasonably sized business to Twitter over the course of three years.

We showed Twitter there were hundreds (potentially thousands depending on how you defined the product) of commercial customers in the world that had an insatiable appetite for full-fidelity coverage over the public "firehose" of Twitter data. Eventually, when they were faced with internal focus reorientation ("all energy must go to the consumer facing product, stop working on commercial licensing deals" they were told (that's _my_ interpretation of the shift, which might not be fully accurate), they had the choice of abandoning all the revenue from commercial resyndication, or partnering up with a firm that had proven its track record (high customer satisfaction rates, reliable, honest, easy to work with, etc etc); Gnip.

Importantly, we had an established customer base and business. We weren't pitching ether to them. The pitch was "here's an amazing business as-is, and it only gets better if we really partner up." If you're pitching 0 (you) + 1 (desired partner) = 1, that's a much harder pitch. We were, at a minimum, in 1 + 1 = 2 range, and ultimately 1 + 1 wound up being much greater than 2.

We pulled post-partnership projections together around what the business, and product, might look like if Gnip had this kind of exclusive access. As with any projections, they were bullshit (not purposefully at all, simply guesses and stabs at a future market), but the magnitude and scope, "big", were what mattered and what the conversation centered around.

We bickered on revenue share split ratios for awhile, and this was transformative for me. Of course we wanted a bigger split (think along the lines of, 80% T, 20% G), but we had very little leverage. I was devastated over the split discussions. I couldn't believe T's arrogance, but, I lacked leverage, and I wasn't going to find any under a couch pillow. Brad Feld (friend and lead investor) had this insight for me; "forget the split! assume they take 100%! you need to focus on building a business and product independent of that revenue. heck, assume the split is reversed and you're getting 80%, I'd still advise you to effectively ignore that revenue and focus on your core IP and product offering." I grappled with that for awhile. It took time to get my head around it, but, I eventually did, and it completely changed my view on how to attack revenue.

Of course, when it can rain $ via rev-share arrangements, that's awesome, but when you don't have that opportunity, you have to aim your guns at what you ARE able to do and impact. In Gnip's case, that was core product and functionality. We became a 100x better product and company because we had to fight for it; every dollar. I think back to that moment sometimes and realize how pivotal it was. I could've thrown in the towel and considered it all a failure. "Split the revenue the other way or we quit!" I could've tantrumed. Thankfully, I took Brad's advice.

The Long Hard Road

Building relationships can be challenging. Especially when you are a startup and one of a thousand gnats buzzing around a bigger entity that is under partnership attack at every angle. Twitter remains a company like this today. Nearly every startup in the space wants a piece of them.

We actually had, among others, the XMPP Twitter firehose on and off for a year or so early on. T was trying to figure out what their API and firehose strategies were, so they just gave it away for awhile. I remember the peak rate at the time... eight tweets per second. Last time I had data here, that peak was more in the 65,000 tweets per second rate (and I'm sure it's much bigger now). Amazing growth. Anyway, Gnip's mission was always about serving a broader publisher landscape. We wanted to offer publisher abstraction to our customers. We wanted them to stop thinking about Twitter and Facebook and Plurk ( ;) ), and instead focus on the underlying user actions (posts, image posts, video posts, likes, etc). Along these lines, we were actually early contributors to Activity Streams (http://activitystrea.ms/ ). All that is to say, that Twitter was just another publisher to us, and our software infrastructure; we weren't playing favorites as we were philosophically opposed to dominant publishers in the ecosystem.

I'll always remember being in friendly conflict with our lead developer on this topic. I was fighting for a publisher agnostic ecosystem, while he steadfastly believed markets always dissolve into one or two players (e.g. Microsoft and Apple... Facebook and Twitter). It would seem he was right, for now, but I think I'm right in the long run. Where we are in the era of social, is _early_, and this two-party system won't last.

Even though we wanted to be publisher agnostic, we weren't fools. We invested a significant amount of time and energy in our relationships with publishers. Some of those relationships were strong, and some were weak. Our relationship with Twitter started neutral, went negative for awhile, then reemerged as something mutually beneficial. The important part of that arc is that we always represented the customers first. "Together, we can provide what the customers really want." Ensuring the conversation always stayed there, allowed us to keep any negative undertones as just that, undertones. Any negativity could be relegated to the background (mostly :) ).

Somewhat aside, I would say that we believed we had access to anyone we wanted, at any company, and that was a function of our investors. We wound up with Foundry Group, First Round Capital, and Softtech VC as our investors, and felt we could get an intro to anyone in the industry via that set of rolodexes. If we had a need in another firm, we could get the intro if we didn't have it already. That illustrates the power of who's in your investor mix. It's subtle, but immensely powerful. Nine times out of ten, the investor would simply provide the setup, and you'd do the heavy lifting of course, but that's an immeasurable value for a startup.

Tenuousness

When it comes to public social data collection, many publishers offer general, rate limited, API access. They want the developer ecosystem to be able to explore and experiment, but, they now realize they don't want the cat out of the bag. They don't want to lose control of their statistics, usage, reliability, and completeness of the system. So, they impede anything that can contort those dimensions against them. Immediately, this puts some developers at odds with the publisher they're trying to partner with. They attack the publisher's infrastructure, sometimes gently, sometimes not, to get the data they, or their customers, want out of the system, then go and ask for greater access via partnership of some form the next day. That yields a tenuous relationship as you can imagine.

Gnip always adhered to the API terms of service/use for a given publisher. We did not build a business on IP addr farms and fan-out requests to get as much data as possible. We played by the rules, and that ultimately helped our with our story for Twitter. We were able to clearly illustrate the market suppression that limited access was causing, and project what the market could look like if things opened up (under non-trivially constrained terms of use of course).

This conflict between your product and the publisher, is real, and it can make or break you. On one hand, you want revenue, and if you break/bend the rules, you can get more of it. However, doing so puts you at odds with the publisher (arguably your bread and butter). Take your pick. We chose to play by the rules and were able to navigate to a successful partnership and outcome. We firmly believed that breaking/bending the rules would yield an incrementally small amount of revenue, and never actually let the business get as big as it could. Think about it this way, black markets exist, and always will, but they're never as big as the open market. Pursue the open market, sure, it's harder, but the rewards are bigger. If the only way you have a business is by breaking rules, stop what you're doing and go do something else; that's ultimately lame; explain that one to your kids.

Finally

We got the deal done because we knew better than Twitter how to serve the market we both wanted served. We were focused on the customer's needs, and we did everything above board. We spent years cultivating relationships inside Twitter (from the CEO, which changed a few times during our efforts), to mid-level, to developers, to BD, to on and on and on). When we were at a conference and there was a Twitter person there, we elbowed our way to them to get a word in. When Twitter put on conferences, we were there. When Twitter wouldn't answer the phone because we were that annoying gnat in the swarm, we backed off the calls until we had something significant to put in front of them (a new feature, a new business milestone). Partnership negotiation is a fine line between expressing your need for the other partnership, and illustrating your ability to be independent.

Obviously, our partnership led to a new level of interaction and visibility between Gnip and Twitter. We were truly in bed together at that point, and one thing led to another, and they acquired us (a few of years after our official partnership began). All told, we spent three years getting to the partnership deal, and almost six getting to acquisition.

We did not set out to build a company that would get acquired by Twitter, we set out to build a strong, big, independent business. We never talked about getting acquired, until the prospect was in front of us.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Understanding What We're Consuming

When we realized all the processed food we were eating was causing us physical pain, we created Nutrition Labels that allowed us to better judge for ourselves whether or not we wanted to eat something. Online content is our new processed food, and we need a way to better, and easily, understand what it is we're consuming.

While most of the time there's nothing preventing someone from doing research into the validity of the content they're consuming, people rarely go the extra mile to do the inspection. We've long been a soundbite/headline culture, and that's never going to change. However, with some simple UX/UI changes to the way we present content, and tools to passively do this for us, we can have a better sense of what it is we're consuming, and make decisions accordingly.

Is the video I'm watching supposed to be "news" and "factual" even though it was created by someone with no history of reporting on the topic? Is the article I'm reading actually parody, but my friend sent it to me as though it was real?

Wouldn't it be nice if we had the means to easily understand the genesis and validity of the content we were consuming.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Airplane Decibel Notes

I collected measurements of real-world decibel levels on a handful of commercial flights. Here they are. All seats, except one, were positioned in-front of the engines, and measurements were taken once we reached cruising altitude. The leading number is the decibel level.

82 - Airbus 319, row 12
82 - Boeing 767, row 6 intl business class
83 - Boeing 757, row 6 first class
84 - Boeing 737, row 8
77 - Airbus 320, row 10
88 - Airbus 319, row 31
75 - Airbus 320, row 3 first class
85 - Boeing 757, row 6 first class
84 - Boeing 737, row 10
92 - Boeing 757, row 3 first class
85 - CRJ200    , row 8
93 - Dash 8-300 (prop), row 10
80 - Boeing 787, row 2 first class
82 - Boeing 757, row 3 first class
84 - Boeing 737, row 8
84 - Boeing 787, row 5 first class