Friday, November 17, 2006

Big In Japan Open Sources Their Ruby On Rails Tools



The kind folks over at Big In Japan have graciously decided to Open Source the code they used to build their demo web sites. It's all Ruby on Rails code, and it's being released with a GPL license. The code trees being made available include:

Very cool. I just love the Open Source community.

I have actually been writing some code of late, and it's great to have some reference code to check out. Not sure if I'm going to go with Ruby on Rails yet, however.

And, for the record. I have no idea if this is big in Japan.


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Is My Toyota Prius Hybrid Worth It?

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Lifehacker asks if a hybrid is worth the money. They reference an excellent article written by OmniNerd, which is worth a read by anyone considering the purchase of a hybrid vehicle.

Since I recently purchased a 2007 Toyota Prius hybrid, I thought I'd comment.

First, the OmniNerd article is very well written and researched. Many thanks to the author. The conclusion is basically that the cost of hybrids is higher than the return you will achieve through the reduction of gas consumption. I think this conclusion doesn't surprise most people, but it's great to back it up with some good math.

OmniNerd also points out that hybrid batteries will need to be replaced in 8-10 years. They did not add this cost to the total cost of ownership of a hybrid vehicle in their calculations. If they did, the hybrids would have looked even worse. However, they do note that hybrids appear to be holding their value better than a comparable non-hybrid.

For me, the cost of the vehicle is a sunk cost -- I save until I can buy a car, then pay cash. I'm a delayed gratification kind of guy. As such, the OmniNerd calculations of the loan payments versus a paid-off 1999 Honda don't really factor into my mind. For those that are financing, the monthly payments certainly would.

For me, I feel like I have an extra $25 in my wallet every time that I visit the pump now. I like that feeling. I'm 6-weeks into ownership of the Prius with 2,400 miles on the beast already. Overall mileage for me is currently 47.7 MPG. Your mileage may vary.

OmniNerd neglects to mention the lower emissions as a value of the hybrids -- one that is harder to put a price on. The stats on the windshield showed the Prius to have one-fifth to one-tenth fewer emissions than non-hybrids. I like that feeling, too. Whenever I sit at a 3-minute stop light with the engine completely off and think about the 50 other cars around me chugging gas and spewing emissions while we wait our turn, then multiply that number times the hundreds of thousands of red lights across the world at that very moment, it certainly makes me think.

Who has done that math?

It's gotta add up.

Oh, and OmniNerd has no way to calculate the value I receive by using the carpool lanes because I drive a low-emissions high-mileage vehicle. Lower stress, longer life.

So, yeah, I paid more up-front than a comparable non-hybrid car. No argument about that. But, I was happy to do so for all the other benefits.

Finally, Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive really is a masterful piece of engineering. Hybrids will become a natural part of most cars in the next 5-10 years. Battery technology will also improve in that time (I look forward to the introduction of Lithium-Ion batteries, naturally), and you will see common MPG ratings of 80+ MPG within 5 years (perhaps much sooner).

So, back to the math. If we all doubled our mileage, our oil consumption would drop in half. That's easy math. Triple it and it drops to one-third. You get the idea. Progress continues, and I welcome it. I'm happy to support the innovators.


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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Google Reader: Actually Quite Good

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I've been using NetNewsWire for as long as I've been reading RSS feeds. I like it. A lot. It's a very well done piece of software. However, it has pretty much stopped any new, active, or interesting development since Ranchero Software (the makers of NetNewsWire) was acquired by NewsGator.

Well, that's not entirely fair. There is an Alpha version of the 3.0 release available that I have been using for the last couple of months. Unfortunately, it doesn't really have anything new. I was looking forward to the expanded view, but the performance was so poor that I quickly turned that option off.

The other problem I was having with NetNewsWire is that the overall performance and memory consumption had greatly increased. You see, I had been using NetNewsWire as the search engine to look through my 311 feeds for articles that I was interested in. As such, I never deleted an article from the cache. I always had about 10,000 articles that were unread and tens of thousands of articles that had been read. I don't think NetNewsWire really could scale to the sheer number of articles effectively, without consuming memory and making my laptop swap.

I looked at Google Reader when it was first announced, but it was complete junk.

Google updated it, so I decided to give it another try.

Congrats to the Google Reader team. It's actually quite good! It just may stick for me.

I particularly like the "Expanded View" and quickly stepping through articles with the "j" keyboard shortcut.

Now, if I could only get a couple more features...

  • The ability to have "smart tags" that search through articles and the articles that match the search criteria end up in the "tags" folder automatically. I use this to automatically spot the companies that I care about that are hits in my collection of RSS feeds.

  • The ability to search through all the articles in all of my RSS feeds, going back to the beginning of the feed. Google is a search company, right? Why isn't there a "search" field on the Google Reader page?


I'm sure I'll find other features that I'd like once I spend more time in Google Reader. I'll keep you posted.


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Gizmondo & Ferrari Destroyer Does (Little) Time


I previously covered the excellent Wired story about Bo Stefan Eriksson and the crazy happenings over at Gizmondo. The court results are in. Stefan is doing 3.5 years for embezzlement and drunk driving. Seems pretty lenient, if you ask me. You would think the DUI alone would result in more jail time - it certainly would if it happened in his home country of Sweden. Oh yeah. He was fined $5,000. Deputy District Attorney Tamara Hall says that "justice has prevailed".

Josh Goldman at CrunchGear comments:
An LA court sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in jail after entering a guilty plea to charges of embezzlement and drunk driving, which was sparked by his spectacular crash of a Ferrari Enzo into a telephone pole. His multi-million dollar home was seized as well, and he’ll be getting a swift boot out of the country after his time is served.

The BBC article is here. And, Emma Boyes at GameSpot UK sums it up nicely as well.


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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

VC is Local… And Global… And Local


I love the Venture Capital model that Draper Fisher Jurvetson has put in place for building a very distributed partnership that can act locally while being completely global. As a result, they get some serious cross-pollination effects that give their firm a competitive advantage.

This is keiretsu for the new millenium.

VC firms that cannot figure out how to effectively embrace the global aspects of the technology markets will not be able to compete.

Matt McCall of DFJ Portage Venture Parnters wrote a great article on this topic:
We have firms using Russian & Estonian programmers, selling product to Asia and competing with European competitors. New technology models in mobile are popping up in Asia & Europe years before the US and next generation silicon is emerging from China before our Valley brethren can get out of the starting blocks. Interestingly enough, both of the CEO’s above had heard of FeedBurner, located in Chicago, and had several RSS efforts they wanted to potentially work with them on.

Seeing all of these firms interacting and talking is a big rush for me. It reminds me that our world is much more than simply building the best Midwest technology firms but rather about building the best global technology firms. The spoils accrue to the #1 or #2 firms and the rest get table scraps. Without this global perspective, it becomes very difficult to understand this global market.

Major agreement.

Hats off to DFJ for thinking out of the box / out of the US, and for putting a VC firm structure in place that supports the "think globally, invest locally" philosophy.


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Wireless Electricity: Now That’s A Market


Some time ago, I wrote about the obvious need for wireless electricity -- even if it's as simple as the power I use to recharge my devices. I say "obvious", because you don't have to be a genius to know that wires hold us captive. Removing wires gives us freedom and mobility. Freedom and mobility are good. Duh. Trickle-charging my devices while I roam would go a long way to extending the life of my battery, methinks.

Anna Salleh for ABC Science Online has the story:
Assistant Professor Marin Soljacic, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will present his team's work at the American Institute of Physics forum in San Francisco this week. [...]

Prof Soljacic says he has found a way of transmitting energy so that only the devices that it is recharging will pick it up, so it will not affect humans.

Instead of using traditional radiation, he wants to use the part of the electromagnetic field that is 'non-radiative'.

He says devices can be tuned to the frequency of this field and thus act as a sink for all the energy the transmitter gives out.

Prof Soljacic says this would prevent energy radiating out to areas it does not need to go to, providing an efficient and safe method of wireless energy transfer.

"The team calculates that an object the size of a laptop could be recharged within a few metres of the power source," he says. "Placing one source in each room could provide coverage throughout your home."

Prof Soljacic also thinks the technology could be used to power freely roaming robots in a factory.

Yeah, baby.

I'll let somebody else test that first. In the mean time, where'd I put that extension cord? Tesla must be so proud.


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STIRR Founder Mixer 1.8


I attended the STIRR Founder Mixer 1.8 tonight in Palo Alto. Charles River Ventures sponsored the event and introduced their QuickStart program to the packed house. Then, the four invited companies got to present a 60-second elevator pitch about their business, and answer a question or two from the host. All the presenters did an excellent job.

For my part, I was attending as an "Advisor Capitalist" -- someone who invests in an early stage company only if he/she feels that they can actually add value to the company by working with the founders directly. That value can come in the form of fund raising assistance, business planning, technology review, architectural considerations, partnering strategy, pricing analysis, competition, corporate structuring, or organizational plan/issues.

My reactions on the presenting companies below...


Frucall allows you to call 1-888-DO-FRUCALL on your mobile phone while you are shopping to find out the best online price for an item. You enter the barcode number of the item of interest, listen to the response, choose to buy from Frucall immediately, get product information verbally, or bookmark the item for later review from your PC. I see where they are going, but I don't think that consumers want to buy items from their mobile phone for mail-order delivery while in a retail store shopping for an instant gratification purchase. Perhaps that's just me. I tried the service with the bar code from my iLife '06 package, but couldn't get a match. Also, it's hard for people to know which numbers constitute the whole bar code. And, the ad at the beginning was pretty long. This might be easier with an SMS message of the bar code...


Kongregate is a casual games site that allows you to play (Flash-only?) games online for bragging rights. I love the market. Couldn't try the service, as it is not open for use quite yet. They describe themselves as "online hub for players and game developers to meet up, play games, and operate together as a community". I also like the fact that "Kongregate shares microtransaction and advertising revenue with contributing developers, who retain the full rights to their games." Well done. The challenge, of course, is to build the player and developer user base concurrently.


Krugle is the place you go to find code and find answers. Krugle is a well-funded startup with funding from folks like Emergence Capital Partners, Omidyar Networks, First Round Capital,
and Rustic Canyon Partners. Krugle also has a seasoned CEO on board in Steve Larsen. I'm a big fan of Krugle. I wrote CVS and contributed it to the Open Source community back in 1989, so I love any tool that helps developers build great software more efficiently. Krugle does that.


What Expedia is for Hotels, Liftopia is for Ski Resorts. OK. Full disclosure. I did live in Colorado for 16 years and I am a snow boarder. But, that's not why I like Liftopia. I think these guys are onto an under-served market. Their CEO really seems to "get it". Their site is nicely done. Unfortunately, they don't have too many resorts on board yet, but some good, hard business development work will get them there. I expect to see some good things from these guys.

All in all, a very enjoyable STIRR event. Just a bit too loud.


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Microsoft Zune in One Word: Yawn

'Nuff said.


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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Zimbra Collaboration Suite 4.0


Previously, I've talked about how my Nokia E61 smartphone does not seem to work correctly with the IMAP IDLE support offered by my Dreamhost email server. I contacted Dreamhost support about this, and they tell me that it's not their fault. It must be a bug in the Nokia E61 IMAP client.

The problem is that the Nokia E61 Email client, when connected to my Dreamhost email server via IMAP, refuses to download new email automatically. I have to specifically ask it to do so. Having grown tired of that, I decided to give Zimbra a try.

The problem with Zimbra is that if you are a Sole Proprietor and only need a single mailbox for your business, trying out Zimbra can be a pretty costly experiment. Lots of the Hosting Partners that support Zimbra charge big setup fees and large monthly fees for Zimbra Mobile support, which I needed for my Nokia E61 to have full access via the Nokia Mail for Exchange (ActiveSync) client.

Having found no love from the Hosting Partners in the US, I moved on to the UK. Simply Mail Solutions offered the full Zimbra Collaboration Suite (ZCS) 4.0 Network Profession Edition with support for Zimbra Mobile and iSync synchronization for my Mac iCal and Address Book contacts. They offer this with $0 setup fee, the ability to purchase just one mailbox, and for the low monthly price of under $8 (US). Competitors in the US were charging setup fees more like $99 and monthly fees of over $20. Simply Mail Solutions won the business.

What was even better was that their customer support was excellent. Keith over at Simply Mail Solutions set up my account and took very good care of me.

If you are looking for Zimbra mailbox support, check these guys out. Tell them I sent you.

I will return later with my reactions to the Zimbra product.


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I Hate Spam: Mac OS X Edition



I Hate Spam.

I get lots of SPAM email -- about 75 SPAM email messages per day.

As a result, I need a good SPAM filter.

In this edition of the I Hate Spam series, I wanted to introduce you to the best darn email SPAM filter that I have found for the Mac OS X operating system. SpamSieve.

I've tried both SpamAssassin and DSPAM on my Dreamhost email server. They continue to let SPAM messages through, no matter what I do to "train" and configure them. I have even gone so far as to run my email through SpamAssassin first, then DSPAM second and only deliver it to my inbox if neither believes the message is SPAM. Even doubled up, SPAM continues to get through. More on this in a separate article.

However, I have found a great tool that runs on my Mac OS X laptop and does an excellent job at filing away the SPAM. Not perfect, but pretty darn close, and much better than the combination of SpamAssassin and DSPAM described above.

Don't even bother using the built-in "Junk" folder that Apple includes with Mail.app. It, too, is Junk. Instead, get SpamSieve. It's cheap, well integrated into Mail.app, and it just works.


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Saturday, November 11, 2006

VMworld 2006: It’s A Wrap


Last week's VMworld 2006 Conference is over, and it was a record-breaking event for VMware. With an estimated 7,000 attendees, the event continues to grow each year. There is clearly lots of interest in Virtual Machine technologies.

Manek Dubash of Techworld does a nice write-up of the event. Looks like VMware Workstation 6 will continue to be the tool-of-choice for dev/test use, with the following expected additions:

  • Record/replay - which allows you to record entire the runtime state of the VM as it changes, and then play it back for debugging purposes

  • Support for Vista as host and guest, and for Solaris 10 as a guest

  • Virtual battery for laptops that shows battery life

  • Easy virtual disk mounting for Windows so you can mount a VM disk file as a drive

  • New virtual hardware to include USB2 and a 64-bit sound driver

  • Max RAM moves from 4GB to 8GB

  • Improved and more flexible shared folders

  • Cross-platform drag and drop and copy/paste operations

  • Improved inter-operability with remote control software such as VNC

  • Support for multiple displays

  • Experimental support for quad-core machines and more virtual PCI slots


The killer feature here is the Record/Replay capability. Nice.

ACE 2.0 features were also divulged:
The product, which was demonstrated in alpha at VMworld this week, allows administrators to distribute pre-packaged virtual machines to users in a secure manner. This means, for instance, that contractors can be allowed to attach to the enterprise network using their own laptops but only via the ACE VM.

ACE (the Assured Computing Environment) is great because it gives IT administrators security and control over the client environment. It also puts VMware into a space owned by Citrix -- and it's not a small space. Expect other startups to go after similar opportunities, like Moka5. There is absolutely big money to be made here, as IT environments continue to pendulum swing of distributed vs centralized administration and the need to reduce the amount of human time consumed by client administration and maintenance. Virtual client machines allow for distributed clients that are managed and secured centrally.

VMware also announced the Virtual Appliance Marketplace. Virtual Appliances are a great way for companies to distribute their solutions in a pre-built, pre-configured, pre-tested, pre-certified environment. Also a nice way to package try-before-you-buy packages of solutions. After all, who really wants to install 10 different open source applications just to be able to test out your particular solution? Instead, just give them a nice clean VM with everything ready to go. Remove the friction. Check out rPath if you need help building one of these.

Mendel Rosenblum, Chief Scientist and Co-Founder of VMware, did a keynote address. Particularly interesting to me was the mention of Nested Paging. Techworld covers it:
He also showed a demonstration of a future AMD CPU feature, Nested Paging. This technology moves the mapping of virtual machine memory page tables to physical memory into the CPU hardware. Rosenblum demonstrated an extreme example of how applications could be accelerated --AMD's Margaret Lewis said that acceleration of memory-intensive tasks such as compilation is likely to be around 43 per cent. Lewis said that this technology, first announced in August, would be available in 2008.

AMD continues to lead Intel in the hardware virtualization race (I, personally, like their SVM approach to Intel's). VMM page table mapping done by hardware would make a huge difference to overall perceived performance.

Finally, be sure to check out the Beta of VMware Lab Manager. This is the result of the Akimbi Systems acquisition that I've mentioned previously. I'm proud to have been an ever-so-tiny part of this success story. I look forward to watching the next steps of VMware's continued maturity.


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Thursday, November 9, 2006

Mary Meeker: Not So Meek


Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley presented some great data today at the Web 2.0 Summit today. Last year, her talk was the highlight of the conference, and this year's presentation does not disappoint. Take a look!

The slides: The State of the Internet, Part 3

Comments:

  • It looks like the hard work that went into the Internet Bubble is finally starting to pay off. At least, for a few of the best companies, as it should be.

  • In public markets, about 2% of technology companies have created about 100% of net wealth. This is not Pareto's 80/20 principle. Expect the love to be shared more over the next few years.

  • About 60% of Internet traffic may be P2P file sharing of unmonetized video. No surprise here. Videos are huge, easy to rip, and easy to distribute. Don't expect this to change.

  • Mobile data services revenue ~$20B -- comparable to online ad revenue. Supports what I was saying in my article on Version.

  • Mobile: 2.5G and 3G Subscribers projected to be close to 2B in 2009. Big market? Um, yeah.

  • LOTS of room for Internet Ad Revenue opportunities. I would expect a big drop in Direct Telephone with a movement to Internet / Online in next 3 years.

  • It's no surprise that Microsoft has moved to selling their own audio hardware with the Zune. Apple showed them that the big money is made on the hardware devices ($14B in CQ3:06) and not in the sale/distribution of audio/video through iTunes ($1.8B in CQ3:06).


Richard MacManus does a nice summary with additional points.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Heroes and YouTube


On last night's episode of Heroes...

Zach films his friend, Claire ("The Cheerleader") exploring the bounds of her amazing regenerative powers -- she quickly heals after any injury, making her basically unbreakable and unkillable. Claire's younger brother, Kyle, finds and views the tape and recognizes a money-making opportunity:
Kyle: I'm gonna put this thing on YouTube, make like a million bucks.

And the quick response:
Zach: YouTube's free, you idiot!

Silly siblings of heroes.

They should put it up on Revver.

Heroes is not just cool because it's an epic story told well.

It's cool because the studios are finally starting to integrate with the audience. Hiro's got a blog (shocking name choice for our Japanese Hero, I know), and Comic Book Artist Craig Byrne runs the 9th Wonders! site with lots of forum activities. And, let's face it, who doesn't love the fact that the show has an integrated comic book being created and exposed with each episode, time travel, regular people who can fly, and the tagline of "Save The Cheerleader, Save The World".

And, you can even watch the show on-line (with a commercial break between each part).

Well done, NBC.


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Saturday, November 4, 2006

Dan Primack Launches peHUB!


Matt Mashall at VentureBeat gets an early jump on the new Private Equity Hub, known as peHUB, that will be announced on Monday and run by Dan Primack of Thomson Financial.

John Furrier interviewed Dan on PodTech.net. Here's the MP3 of the podcast, and John's write-up.

In the podcast, Dan says:
It's supposed to be kind of a public forum for the private equity community. Everyone from early stage VCs all the way up to the mega buyout folks, and kind of everybody who touches them, whether that be entrepreneurs, or attorneys, or bankers, or business school students. Yeah, it's blog-based, it's going to be myself and the editorial team here writing, and we also have a group of about 50 guest authors who will regularly be contributing to the site. And, again, it's a kind of wide range. We've got venture capitalists, we've got big buyout folks, we've got some entrepreneurs, we've got placement agents for funds, and limited partners -- it's a good group!

I've introduced you to Dan and PE Week before. peHUB will be must-read for the VC/PE community as well. Congratulations, Dan. I look forward to the conversations!


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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

CRV QuickStart: It’s All About The Dealflow

Looks like the story of the day is the CRV QuickStart announcement from Charles River Ventures. It's basically the formalization of a Seed-Stage investing program that many VC firms have:

  • They put in up to $250,000 as a convertible note to get you to Series A.

  • The note earns interest and CRV has the right to roll the note and the interest into the company's Series A at a discount of up to 25%.

  • CRV also has the right, but not the obligation, to contribute up to 50% of the Series A funding.


These are all perfectly standard "market" terms. I did exactly the same thing with Allocity, which was seeded in precisely the same way by Mohr Davidow Ventures (and subsequently acquired by EMC). Angel investors also do convertible notes all the time. This really is the simplest way to structure things at the seed-stage.

But, lots of VC's do seed investments like this. Why is this one special?

It's not so much that it's special, but it's very smart for CRV to formalize the program and make it public. It's also wise for them to show the terms in public. That way, everyone knows what they are signing up to when they send in their investor pitch.

For CRV, this does one thing: It gives them access to a lot of dealflow and allows them to make more, smaller investments. It's a smart move.

Fred Wilson wrote:
There is a lot to like about this deal. I hope Charles River shows us the best deals that come out of this program!

I agree! Now, Fred distinguishes his firm from CRV QuickStart by stating that Union Square Ventures is much more hands-on. I don't know how hands-on CRV intends to be with this program, but there is nothing stopping CRV from hiring a person or two to shepherd these seed-stage companies to greater success. Time will tell.

Josh Kopelman wrote:
It also is a recognition of some of the challenges that larger venture funds face. Take a hypothetical traditional $400M VC firm. In order to achieve a 20% IRR, the fund must return 3x their initial capital over a 7 year term -- or $1.2B. Now say this hypothetical VC firm typically owns 20% of their portfolio companies at exit (an industry average). That means that at exit their portfolio needs to create $6 Billion dollars worth of market value (ie, $1.2B / 20%). Assuming that their average investment size is $20M, that means that they invest in 20 companies -- this assumes an average exit valuation of $300M PER COMPANY. Given the tight IPO Market and an average M&A exit value of less approximately $150M, this math creates some real challenges.

Josh makes an excellent point, but it's a grander discussion than the topic at hand. And, it's a discussion worthy of a separate post. CRV QuickStart is not intended to solve this dilemma -- it's just about getting earlier access to quality dealflow.

Josh goes on to point out some conflict of interests around the way that CRV has structured the deal:

  1. A convertible note could cause CRV to want a low valuation in Series A so that their early risk will purchase them more shares. I.e., will CRV really be helping the companies make progress during the seed round, or will they be motivated to hold back in hopes of buying more of the company in Series A? This is poppycock. It's absolutely in CRV's interest to help the companies during the seed and to secure a great valuation and solid footing with a VC syndicate partner.

  2. Concern about bad optics if CRV decides not to invest in the Series A. Yeah, that's something that would need to be addressed. However, if the company cannot address those simple optics issues, then I have little hope that they can build a successful company.

  3. Josh questions whether someone like CRV could devote the hands-on time necessary to nurture many of these investments. I think that's a great problem for CRV to have. I agree with Josh, but believe that CRV can solve this easily by hiring early-stage entrepreneurs and advisor capitalists (like myself) to help them with the load and give them a piece of the action.


Michael Arrington wrote:
Angel investors, ranging from individuals like Ron Conway and Jeff Clavier, to small funds like YCombinator and First Round Capital, have taken real market share from established venture capitalists by moving quickly and investing small amounts of capital instead of force feeding unwanted millions on a young startup. While taking a ton of early capital may sound enticing, companies can price themselves out of small but lucrative acquisitions simply because they’ve taken too much capital.

I love what Paul Graham is doing at YCombinator. I would add Perry Wu to the list.

Matt Marshall wrote:
CRV has downsized considerably in recent years. The firm now manages a $250 million fund, down from a whopping $1.2 billion fund they’d raised during the Internet bubble years. The team estimate they’ll do between 25 and 50 deals over the next three years.

This sounds a bit like what was happening at Sevin Rosen Funds, another firm that has been around a very long time and has naturally been shrinking the fund size based on the current VC market. SRF had found great success doing seed-stage and incubator type deals in the past (informally), but has struggled lately with the fact that the seed-stage companies are Internet properties. It's great that CRV is formalizing their program and adapting. That's the only way to survive.

Best of luck to CRV and their team.

I predict a very busy holiday season for Tai, Zachary, and Wu!


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