Category

General Business

Downsides of a white hot economy

A few quick market observations from dicussions I’ve had with portfolio companies over the past few weeks. All relate to just how a white hot economy has some downside effects on certain types of businesses. Certainly some early warning signs – curious if others out there are seeing the same. My take-away is that in many sectors of the economy companies quite literally don’t need more customers. They can’t handle the additional load because they can’t hire fast enough and their supply chains are stretched thin. We’ve seen this in digital advertising for sure (and not just in travel and other segments that might be reacting to the Delta variant). Interestingly we’ve also seen a couple of companies – especially…

Making a Better World – Uncharted’s Economic Equality Initiative

Uncharted is about to launch applications for their new Economic Inequality Initiative to support teams working on radical ideas to address economic inequality. I have a long history with the Unreasonable Institute (renamed Uncharted in 2017) and the work they’ve been doing around empowering entrepreneurs from many different backgrounds who are working across the globe on some of our world’s most important problems. Since 2010, they have helped an amazing set of entrepreneurs raise over $250 million, created impact in 96 countries, and benefited 37 million lives around the world. Amazing! Seeing extreme economic inequality as one of the biggest threats to America in the next 30 years, they’re launching their most ambitious program ever. I hope you can help…

Net Dollar Retention vs. Net Revenue Retention

Net Dollar Retention (NDR) and Net Revenue Retention (NRR) are both important measurements in any business but many companies conflate the two or (more frequently) only report on one. Both are key metrics but for different reasons. Equally important is separating out NRR for your largest customers versus the rest of your customers since often the behavior of large customers is markedly different than average customers. Their effect on a business and can be hidden in aggregate data and a sense of their impact is lost. NDR and NRR are as defined as follows: NDR measures the average percentage change in revenue over the first 12 months of a customer. NRR measures the percentage of revenue retained from all customers…

The Importance of the Democratization of Capital

The democratization of capital may be messy at times, but it’s much better than the alternative. And it’s long over-due. Robinhood’s actions to restrict trading in GameStop stock, as well as several other issuers, was completely the wrong response to an increasingly active capital class. It’s time to give up this old notion that small investors somehow need to be saved from themselves (as they claimed was the reason they halted trading in GME and other issues *). For years, capital investment has been the sole purview of the wealthy in the United States and elsewhere. We’ve long had a series of laws that restricted people’s abilities to invest in private stocks and at that same time, given fee structures…

Work Lessons from the Pandemic

I’ve been thinking a lot about what changes in my work I’d like to keep, post-pandemic (can we even talk about a post-pandemic world? It still feels pretty far off). I’m trying to be deliberate and actionable about it. For me that means actually writing down what I’m trying to change and why. It also means trying to dig deeper than top level or cliche ideas (i.e., of course I’d like to travel less; but the deliberate and actionable version of that idea addresses the drivers of my travel – for example board meetings – and specific ways I’d like to change what’s pulling me out of town). In my world, the two biggest things I’ve changed are: Have completely…

Performance-based Options Grants

I had a bunch of interesting comments on my recent post about company options programs – many very constructive. One of the things a number of people have asked was what I think is the right approach to performance-based options grants. I realized I referenced this in my original post but didn’t cover it in any detail. Performance grants are important and provide an opportunity to describe a nuance that I didn’t do a very good job of outlining in my original article. For performance grants, I believe the right methodology is for the board and the management team to decide on a pool of options that is available in any given year for merit-based grants. I think it’s important…

Better Zoom Meetings

My partners and I hold weekly Monday meetings and about once a quarter, we do an extended, six or seven-hour version. Before COVID-19, we’d end the day with a dinner and a chance to socialize and decompress after a long day of portfolio updates and strategic planning. And, of course, before COVID we’d all be in person. Our discussions were lively, they were engaged and we’d often make use of whiteboards, sticky notes and other forms of interaction (we have a post card with a logo for each of our portfolio companies which we often make creative use of). They’re fun and super productive. And then COVID hit and our meetings lost their soul (and their fun, and their interest,…

A Few Days

This last weekend, I took the weekend off along with a half-day on Thursday and a full day on Friday. I called it a mini-vacation and it was fantastic. I turned off email and (for the most part) social media and enjoyed some digital free time. Like many of you, I’ve been running hard the past few months. Long days, working weekends, etc. Spring break was skipped and we’re running headlong into summer. At some point we all need to take a moment, ideally a few, and recharge. A week off right now felt like a step too far, so I decided to start with a smaller step. It was a good reminder both of how needed it was as…

A-B-E

Almost universally our best companies are constantly experimenting. This takes different forms in different parts of their businesses but the common theme is that every process, every page on your website, every communication to a customer is an opportunity to test and optimize. Sometimes this is chipping away at a mountain (small improvements that add up over time). Other times we see large jumps in efficiency (I had a company recently change some text on a landing page and see a 10% improvement in sign-ups to a white paper). The improvements are important – businesses become efficient over long periods of time and these efficiencies compound each other to create significantly better operational outcomes (and business outcomes). And even small…

What’s a Fair 409A Discount?

Quick note: I’m not your lawyer. I’m not giving legal advice in this post. Back in the olden days of venture capital, company boards had wide discretion in pricing company options. As is true today, there was a requirement that options be priced at or above the “fair market value” of the underlying stock (otherwise there would be tax consequences to the optionee and sometimes to the company as well). However the board could determine what that fair market value was and, generally speaking, there wasn’t a practical way that these valuations could be challenged. Most boards did some level of work to determine the FMV of a company’s stock but generally options were priced between 10% and 15% of…