venture capital threads

fred destin
a great twitter storm about the effect of coronavirus in our venture capital lives…
 

1/ A little thread on how one venture capitalist thinks about the pandemic from a fund standpoint
2/ First of all stating the obvious — this is first and foremost a global scale humanitarian crisis right now. It’s staring us in the face but from (most of ) VC Twitter you wouldn’t know it.
3/ My job is to manage a fund. As such my first take is to form a view on the depth of the crisis. The difficulty is that no one can model this thing. Any forecast we make is more likely to reflect our own appetite for risk and view of the future than anything else.
4/ Analysts are paid to produce numbers, and so numbers they will produce, but we do not believe that any macroeconomic model can cope with the current situation, in the same way that the 2008 crisis broke the “dream machine” of risk models that underpinned credit derivatives.
5/ Neither do we trust the numbers coming out of China, or think that any of the South Asia countries are out of the woods yet. We will see. There is too much we don’t know. The best hope lies with science (notably, cheap testing).
6/ We do however have to advise our startups on what to do, so we need to form a somewhat informed view of the future, and a decision framework. As Howard Marks recently told Harry on his podcast, investors cannot let themselves be impacted by emotion.
7/What we can reasonably assume is that it will deeper and longer than 2008, probably harsher than 2000-2003 and probably, hopefully, nowhere near as bad the Great Recession.
Government response, agile manufacturing and health / biotech mobilization should ensure that.
8/ Because travel and trade froze at the same time, and given that the whole world is gradually moving into lockdown, the global economy is experiencing a combined supply and demand shock which is unprecedented.
9/ Working capital gets hit first and hard, with household wages and consumption following in lockstep. Credit follows naturally.
10/ Governments have played the Quantitative Easing game non-stop over the last few years. Rates are so low that even the Fed has nowhere to go, and it is unclear what rate cuts would achieve anyway.
11/ The US is also hampered by deep partisan politics which render both federal government and states less effective in their stimulus response. All this does not bode well.
12/ On the other hand comparisons to the Great Recession seem excessive — governments have long understood how to use Keynesian methods in recession, and the massive stimulus packages are witness to that.
13/ We are anticipating a deep dive that will last 12 months or more, followed by a tough period of stagnation before a return to growth. As I said, these are planning assumptions not forecasts, and they will be overrun by facts week after week. Hope this tweet ages badly.
14/ In the face of such uncertainty — VCs will look at existing portfolios first and look at (a) crisis impact company by company (b) financing risk on the existing portfolio (c) valuation risks.
15/ At @stride_vc we are relatively “lucky” in that (a) we invest at seed so burns are usually low and valuations are reasonable (b) almost all our companies are funded into 2022 (c) we are only about 30% invested and early in our investment history
16/ The companies most at risk are those who have recently starting investing into growth and are into that weird “Series B gap” where you start tooling up for scale and are heavily reliant on hitting growth forecasts. A tough place to be right now given the uncertainty.
17/ Per company assessment yields a surprising picture – a majority of our companies are not currently seeing a major impact and a few are accelerating. I don’t know how long this lasts. The point is that the data does not tell you what you’d necessarily expect right now.
18/ The immediate adjustment tends to be hiring freeze and a hard reassessment of cash flow forecast with deep cuts in growth and a significant uptick in churn. Anything else and you’re probably deluding yourself or not being prudent. That is the only way to forecast runway.
19/ We tell all our management teams that forecasts do no matter anymore — the only things that matter are (1) taking care of your team (2) making a calm and dispassionate assessment of the impact on your business (3) taking a few but well reasoned decisions right away and …
20/ … deciding very exactly what to measure and what leading indicators you are going to monitor obsessively to determine where your market is going. This is completely company specific, and it is important to avoid confirmation bias on positive news.
21/ Right now I am SURPRISED at how functional our companies’ clients are in the face of this pandemic – decisions get made, deals get closed. Large corporations have not frozen in the face of this crisis – they are moving, and fast. Long may that last.
22/ From an investment standpoint – we here hit the pause button for a bit — I am not smart enough to process this information and have confidence in our decisions on new investments, and our focus is 100% on assisting our founders with hands-on advice.
23/ Whether we hit pause for 2 weeks or 2 months I don’t know yet. We invest money on behalf of other people and right now we do not feel confident putting cash to work. I read voraciously and try to understand as much as I can, and I haven’t gotten my head around this yet.
24/ What is absolutely clear in my mind is that you can expect deal volumes to plummet this quarter. It makes for good marketing to say that you are open for business, and I like the positivity, but we need to see how much $£ actually gets put to work.
25/Uncertainty kills decision making.
VCs are in the business of taking risk AND managing risk.
Right now you can take it, but in most cases it’s really hard to manage it
PS/ and for clarity, since question was asked, yes we absolutely do support our existing portfolio companies.

The unexpected new world

Second Newsletter done at Bright Pixel – subscribe here!

Life as we know it has changed in the last few months. It started as something that was only happening in China to something that’s keeping us all awake at night and concerned. Some said it was inevitable; that, sooner or later, something like this would happen. 14 years ago, Larry Brilliant, the epidemiologist who helped eradicate smallpox, described to a TED audience what the next pandemic would look like. At the time, it sounded almost too horrible to take it seriously.

We’re not facing the end of the human race, but what everyone failed to predict were the human and economic consequences of such an impactful event. Research, medicine and, unfortunately, even some lives will help us overcome this situation and build a better world, based on our learnings from our previous errors.

However, once we are back to our daily lives – even before that – we will face a new economic reality. Right now, our lives and markets are frozen still. As USV founder Fred Wilson noted, while all assets are probably subject to a sell-off in a crisis, the market begins sorting winners and losers fast.

It’s time to look at this atypical situation as an opportunity to change, to start creating and implementing solutions that we wouldn’t dare to think about before in such a globalized, interconnected, fast-paced world. Let’s take the time we have been given to reinvent ourselves and face a new market reality.


A brief look at the world
Tribe Capital warns that a downturn can take years of cascading developments to fully express itself, if we consider similar past events. The international issues that have marked 2020 so far led to a spike in market volatility leading the S&P 500 declining 30% from its peak in just 16 days. In the 2008 debt crisis, it took 350 days to decline almost 60% from its peak and it still didn’t bottom out for another 200 days.

While ones are experiencing the need to dismiss their employees, others like Amazon or Walmart are surfing the wave and foreseeing the possibilities ahead of them. This tech giant announced plans to make 100 thousand new hires for its logistics operations and the Walmart is hiring another 150 thousand. Moreover, specifically in venture capital, there are new attempts emerging to counter the panic by mediating between firms still cutting checks and the companies that need the money. A new program called Luma Launch out of LA has already gathered 400 names of investors seeking activity. There is a sense of irony, however… because Luma itself will not be among those investing…


The VC narrative

There is more than one voice advising to prepare for tougher times, so investors are slowing down their analysis of new opportunities whilst reaching their portfolio companies with important recommendations to keep their businesses sound. Priyamvada Mathur lists the need to cut unnecessary expenses to extend cash runway, expand the customer base, be sure to have a dependable board of directors and, at last, but not least, how to become a great storyteller about how the company is successfully solving a problem…

Redpoint Ventures’ managing director Tomasz Tunguz also leaves six startup disciplines for challenging times, including the focus of the team: while sales teams need to keep pipelines primed by wooing existing customers, CEOs need to think about transitioning from management to leadership roles. Sequoia also warns their founders and CEO’s for the effects of Coronavirus, the black swan of 2020: some companies may experience softening demand; some may face supply challenges. While the Federal Reserve and other central banks can cut interest rates, monetary policy may prove a blunt tool in alleviating the economic ramifications of this global health crisis


What’s coming next?

We don’t know exactly what that world will look like – although Sequoia has published a matrix with several economic macro scenarios -, we can imagine some of it. Basically, take the trends that were already in motion and hit the fast-forward button. Virtualization of events, activities, and interactions – the MIT Technology Review says that social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. Automation of processes and services. Political and economic decentralization. “Now is the time when we need to think about what we would like the new world to look like, and start planning for it and building it”

What do the numbers say? CB Insights sees a 16% quarterly decline coming in Q1’20 – second only to the 36% fall between Q2’12 and Q3’12 – and it is expected to decrease even more in the next quarter. While the analysts at Pitchbook see COVID-19 as, at least in part, exacerbating old trends. Sustainability and profitability, which are quintessential to surviving any downturn, had re-entered the VC lexicon no later than the WeWork debacle. The founder-friendliness in term sheets had already taken a blow, with investors simply demanding more, and that should be expected to continue. Exits, which had already receded somewhat after the IPO frenzy, will also fall again; despite SoftBank’s considerations mentioned above, many firms will also probably be less than willing to sell assets at lower valuations. At the same time, there is no lack of potential dry powder, so even with fewer exit possibilities, investments will probably not be hit in the same way as in 2008

A moment to enhance the Portuguese entrepreneurs

Some Portuguese startups, among them some of our portfolio companies, such as Jscrambler, Probely, Automaise, Taikai, Reckon.ai, or EatTasty, are taking efforts to become even more relevant and put their know-how and solutions at the service of the society and health entities. We’re proud to see that when needed, there’s no competition

 

Investing like family

Our first edition of Bright Pixel Newsletter – subscribe here!

Live, Learn, Iterate, Share, Collaborate, Research, Recommend, Discuss, Think, Act.

Recently, we had an interesting discussion at Bright Pixel about our willingness to share more and give back to our community.

We have been dwelling about the fact that we have constant and regular access to interesting information related to tech investments, namely to some privileged and/or highly relevant content that could benefit a wider audience. We also have specialised knowledge and a growing experience related to early stage tech investments that are trying to scale in several geographies and explore different market opportunities.

So, we decided to launch a monthly newsletter, where we will share with you things that caught our attention, stuff that we have learnt, ideas for you to explore and research about.

We hope this newsletter can be useful for investors like us, entrepreneurs that are exploring their own projects, people in love with tech, innovators and curious minds. This is the first edition of many, we hope. Please send us feedback and help us improve. This is from us, with bright intentions, to you, the bright minds that will change the world.


Top Early Stage Investors – a family business?

Rocket Internet is a well known story, led by Oliver Samwer and his two brothers, Alexander and Marc.

When we started Bright Pixel based on a venture builder studio model, we looked at several players with similar approaches, namely the aggressive and highly criticized strategy, followed by Rocket Internet, that was known for extensively applying copycatting techniques in its portfolio companies, inspired by successful and proven formulas of companies in other geographies. At the time, we did not like that type of approach and built our startup studio with a different DNA.

Nevertheless, if you fast forward 4 years, clearly it looks like their aggressive approach has paid off. Now, they have reached a considerable size in terms of portfolio and assets under management, under now the umbrella of GFC. Oliver is also co-author of the entrepreneur’s handbook “America’s most successful startups”, that gathered several fans and haters (e.g. professor Jürgen Seitz identified 4 things Silicon Valley can learn from this investor)


To be a copycatter, or not to be?

Bright Pixel is reaching its fourth year of existence as an early stage tech investor focused on emerging tech opportunities. We have now 15 portfolio investments and we are always discussing how we can be a better investor, differentiate ourselves from the pack and add extra value to the entrepreneurs that we work with. That’s why we frequently look at what other more established players are doing in the market.

Dealroom is one of the many great sources of truth about the startup world. They have recently launched a European VC 2020 ranking that ranks all the players, based on quantitative and transparent criteria. As the European VC space has been steadily growing and maturing in the last years, Dealroom has improved their rankings, distinguishing the Top Seed VC investors from Top Series A Investors.

Global Founders Capital, tightly linked to the german based incubator Rocket Internet, leads the Top Seed VC ranking. They now have a 220+ portfolio with 36 deals in 2019, 7 potential unicorns and 8 realized unicorns, closely followed by LocalGlobe and Seedcamp in the second and third spot


We’re a family too

We actually respect more and see higher value in the approach followed by another family of VCs, based out of the UK, that currently are in the second and third spot of the Top Seed VC ranking. Localglobe was founded by Robin Klein, considered by many as a pioneer of Europe’s venture scene, and his son, Saul, that later also founded Seedcamp with Reshma Sohoni.

In 2015, Robin Klein shared his vision on what were the biggest mistakes startups should avoid making – something worthwhile reading! – and you can also listen to him talking about LocalGlobe’s approach when evaluating early stage startups, how he sees the european ecosystem and the next wave of disruption in the world.

At Seedcamp, where we have a well-represented Portuguese batch within their startup portfolio, it is interesting to understand and hear Sohoni talk about their vision of how Seedcamp can help their companies rise from difficult times to household names in the market. They also shared a great deal of information about essentials for startups


Powered with love… in what we do!

First principles

The term “first principles” was coined more than 2,000 years ago by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the best way to understand a subject is to break it down to its most fundamental principles.

In a 2012 interview with Digg founder Kevin Rose, Musk explained how to apply the first principles method, using the cost of car batteries as an example:

Step 1: Identify the problem and its common assumptions.

“Somebody could say, ’Battery packs are really expensive, and that’s just the way they will always be. Historically, it has cost $600 per kilowatt hour,” Musk said, referencing the “common assumption” about car batteries.

Therefore, he continued, most people would just accept that “it’s not going to be much better than that in the future.”

Step 2: Break the problem down to its fundamental truths.

This is often the most difficult part, and the key is to ask the right questions — by challenging the common assumptions. Keep digging deeper and deeper until you are left with only the fundamental truths.

“With first principles, you say, ‘What are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the stock market value of the material constituents?’ It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, some polymers for separation and a seal can,” explained Musk.

Then, he continued, “you’d break that down on a material basis and say, ‘If we bought that on the London Metal Exchange what would each of those things cost?’ It’s like $80 per kilowatt hour.”

Step 3: Use the fundamental truths to plot a new course.

Fundamental truths are like building blocks. Once you’ve gathered them, you can use them to create an entirely new and innovative solution.

With the batteries, “you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell,” Musk said. “Then you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.”

A ‘powerful, powerful way of thinking’

Musk has referenced the value of first principles thinking several times. “I think it’s important to view knowledge as sort of semantic tree,” he wrote in a 2015 Reddit AMA. “Make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details, or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

In a 2014 commencement speech at the University of Southern California, he offered a similar piece of advice: “Don’t just follow the trend. It’s good to think in terms of the physics approach — the first principles,” he said. “This is a good way to figure out if something really makes sense, or if it’s just what everybody else is doing.”

He added: “It’s very hard to do. You can’t think that way about everything. It takes a lot of effort, but if you’re trying to do something new, it’s the best way to think. It’s really a powerful, powerful way of thinking.”

Other cool links

2013 Elon Musk TED talk

Warren Buffet also follows a similar decision-making strategy

mindfulness

I started off with Headspace but lately I’ve used with some success the Calm app, but never wanted to pay for it!

Now I am testing two free alternatives to then stay with one!

Smiling Mind is in testing mode now!

 

Top picks for the best meditation apps of 2020:

1. Ten Percent Happier

2. Headspace

3. Simple Habit

4. Insight Timer

5. Calm

6. Stop, Breathe & Think

7. Smiling Mind


What is meditation and what does it actually do?
Mindfulness — the goal of meditation — means being fully aware and present in the moment you live in. To achieve it, practitioners recommend paying close attention to your thoughts and feelings, observing your breath, and focusing.
Essentially, mindfulness is “this little kindling of interest in the most mundane fact of your existence,” Clifford Saron, a research scientist at the Center for Mind and Brain, tellsInverse.
Anyone can achieve it. But some people learn how to be mindful by regularly practicing specific techniques, including meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises.
The evidence is mounting that meditation is beneficial for both the mind and the body. Studies show that mindfulness may curb anxiety and depression, and may even improve your heart health. Other research shows mindfulness may treat alcohol addition, or increase resiliency in the face of stress. Other studies show that even just a brief introduction to mindfulness meditation may lessen pain and negative emotions.
Most recently, a pair of research papers to be published in March 2020 suggest that mindfulness may benefit you at work, too, by boosting attention and resilience in high-tension professional settings.
Mindfulness may go even further — a 2012 brain scan study found eight weeks of meditation quite literally changed participants’ brain structure.
But, while the science behind meditation and mindfulness grows, experts in the field believe the lay market in mindfulness may have gotten a little ahead of itself.
“This is a fraught area with inconclusive and highly variable results in which the press about the effects of meditation is way ahead of the actual data and the methodological issues involved,” Saron says.

Smiling Mind— A go-to for younger users interested in meditation.
Founded in 2012, this Australian app has quickly become a go-to for youth mindfulness meditation.
The app provides users with a survey to assess their base levels of happiness, contentedness, and alertness. It is customizable, meaning it can be tailored to enable younger users — especially those in school — to meet specific goals they have for their mental health and well-being.
Smiling Mind made it into the top picks because of its sports meditation programs: The app includes 6 modules with 12 sessions (made in partnership with Cricket Australia) designed to help users in their athletic performance.
There are longer sessions ideal for training and off-season periods, and shorter booster-style sessions that may help users get ready on the day for the big game.

building blocks

Building Blocks Planning
This is an outline of a simple tool for planning innovative technology businesses which helps consider sequences and consequences.
Powered by:  Mick Liubinskas

Product Focus for tech companies in San Francisco

This method uses the metaphor of building blocks to plan the major steps from now to your big goal. The principle is that each block builds on the block under it and must be a logical extension forward. It stops ‘hope’ as a strategy or ‘dreams’ without structure. It gets you to ask the question, what foundation am I building and, when it is finished and strong, what can I build on that base to grow towards my vision.
It’s useful for the management of tech businesses who are trying to plan when there are complex interactions between parts and many paths to take.
Planning is significantly harder with innovations because there are a number of large unknowns or, at best, hypotheses, including;
Who are we building this for?
What problem are we solving?
What is it we are building?
How should we build it?
What resources will it take to build?
How long will it take to build?
How much will it cost?
Will the customers want/like/use it?
Will the customers pay for it and how much?

Continue reading “building blocks”

Wear sunscreen

The Lyrics
Ladies and gentlemen of the class of ’97
Wear sunscreen
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it
A long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists
Whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable
Than my own meandering experience, I will dispense this advice now
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, oh, never mind
You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth
Until they’ve faded, but trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back
At photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now
How much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked
You are not as fat as you imagine
Don’t worry about the future
Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing Bubble gum
The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind
The kind that blindsides you at 4 p.m. On some idle Tuesday
Do one thing every day that scares you
Saying, don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts
Don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours
Floss
Don’t waste your time on jealousy
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind
The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself
Remember compliments you receive, forget the insults, if you succeed in doing this, tell me how
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements
Stretch
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.
The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives
Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t
Get plenty of calcium
Be kind to your knees
You’ll miss them when they’re gone
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t
Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the ‘Funky Chicken’
On your 75th wedding anniversary
Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
Or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can
Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it
It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room
Read the directions even if you don’t follow them
Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly
Brother and sister together we’ll make it through
Some day a spirit will take you and guide you there
I know you’ve been hurting but I’ve been waiting to be there for you
And I’ll be there just helping you out whenever I can
Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good
Be nice to your siblings, they’re your best link to your past
And the people most likely to stick with you in the future
Understand that friends come and go
But a precious few, who should hold on
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young
Live in New York City once but leave before it makes you hard
Live in northern California once but leave before it makes you soft
Travel
Accept certain inalienable truths
Prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too, will get old
And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young
Prices were reasonable, politicians were noble
And children respected their elders
Respect your elders
Don’t expect anyone else to support you
Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse
But you never know when either one might run out
Never mess too much with your hair
Or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85
Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
And recycling it for more than it’s worth
But trust me on the sunscreen
Brother and sister together we’ll make it through
Some day a spirit will take you and guide you there
I know you’ve been hurting but I’ve been waiting to be there for you
And I’ll be there just helping you out whenever I can
Everybody see it oh yeah yeah
Everybody see it oh yeah
He want you to feel good!