Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

New York –> San Francisco

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

As Horace Greeley would say, "Go West, young man"

After eight wonderful years of living, working, and studying in New York City, this morning I officially moved back to my native California.  Subconsciously, this day has been coming for awhile (afterall, I never gave up my CA driver’s license despite having been gone since 1999), but it’s still very difficult to leave my amazing friends scattered throughout the Big Apple and all over the East Coast.

On Tuesday, I’ll start with Battery Ventures in their Menlo Park office.  I’ll write more about Battery and what I’ll be up to there in a future post, but I’m excited about the firm as well as returning to investing in and partnering with promising companies.

While filling boxes with winter clothes that I’ll likely never need again, I had plenty of time to reflect on everything that’s happened over the past eight years.  Since moving to New York immediately after college, I’ve lived in six different apartments with a total of ten different roommates (and eleven if you count me living solo).  I also estimate that I’ve jogged over 5,000 miles through the streets and parks of NYC, biked just under 2,500 miles, and walked more avenues than I could ever possibly recall.

I never made it to the Meadowlands (I suppose that’s New Jersey anyway) and wish I had taken better advantage of the theater scene (although I did see The Book of Mormon a few weeks ago and it was fantastic), but other than that I don’t have a single regret.  New York is an incredible place to live and I’m thankful I’ve had the opportunity to call it home for all of my professional life.  A big part of me will always be a New Yorker.

Well, New York City, we had a great run and I’ll miss you.  Save my stool at Old Town Bar because I’ll be back often, but in the meantime you can find me at The Old Pro cheering on the Giants and 49ers.  Eureka!

Voicemail Stinks

Sunday, April 10th, 2011
MBK and ALK

Dad (#346) and yours truly (#347) after finishing the Lillian Larson "Buzz" Marathon a few years ago

Today is my dad’s birthday so I’ve been thinking about him more than usual over the past week.  He isn’t on Facebook (although his dad is), and Dad’s generally weary of sharing any private information in public.  Suffice to say he definitely doesn’t blog, gives out his social security number more reluctantly than anyone I know, and is absolutely going to hate this post.

Growing up, my dad had an office at home so my brothers and I got to see the latest in corporate innovations in real time.  I vividly remember watching him receive his first fax (“you can instantly send a piece of PAPER thousands of miles?!  Magic!”), and one day he brought home a small – but very heavy – briefcase that housed a PORTABLE telephone.  Whoa.

Dad also has an uncanny ability to see the big picture.  For example, on a family vacation in the late ’80s, I vividly remember him claiming that some day we wouldn’t share one phone number for the whole family, but that everyone would have their own personal phone which we would carry around in our pocket wherever we went.  I genuinely thought he was telling a fairy tale.  Sure enough, within a decade I didn’t have a landline.

Today, Dad sends text messages with the enthusiasm of a teenage girl (okay, not quite – hold the emoticons), and he sends photos he’s snapped from his Blackberry as if he’s been doing it his whole life.  One thing he won’t advance with, however, is voicemail.  He loves it.  I think it’s a function of starting his career without email/IM/video chat/etc., but he’ll never give it up.  I’m certainly “my father’s son” in many ways, but for me, voicemail really stinks.  Here are my top reasons why:

  • Searching is brutal.
  • It’s hard to reply and even harder to forward.
  • One can’t discretely sneak a look during a boring meeting in the same way they could an email.
  • When the message actually happens to contain important info, it’s almost always left at the end and spoken quickly, forcing the receiver to listen all over again.
  • Google Voice (and similar services) are a step in the right direction, but they never really work properly.
  • The user has to listen at the speed the message was delivered.  No skipping through the rambling intro.
  • It’s awkward to leave a voicemail during off hours (the caller might wake the receiver, for example).
  • Most smart phone users need to have a strong cell signal to retrieve voicemail or they’re forced to proactively call into their own number and enter the passcode (which is hard to do without a strong cell signal).

I dislike voicemail so much that I actually just changed my outgoing message to “Hi, you’ve reached Mike Katz.  I do not check this voicemail.  The best way to reach me is to send a text message to this number or to send me an email.  Thanks.”  As an aside, I generally like video as a medium, but it has many of the same shortcomings as voicemail in terms of a communication format (in recruiting, it takes 4-5 times longer to watch someone tell their “story” in a video resume as opposed to scanning their LinkedIn profile).  More on that in another post, however.

Anyway, happy birthday, Dad.  If you’re reading this, I left you a voicemail earlier so give me a ring when you get a chance.  I figured on the anniversary of your birth I’d do it your way.

Don’t Be a Jerk

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin Portrait, by Joseph Siffred Duplessis

I’ve been intending to write this post for a long time, but the malevolent and snarky comments following Alan Patricof’s piece on Business Insider earlier today reminded me how overdue I am in writing this.  In full disclosure, Alan is my old boss, I consider him a friend, and I largely agree with the content of his article.  However, that’s not the point of this blog post:

Dear Anyone Who Writes Malicious Anonymous Comments on the Web,

You are a coward.  A giant, pathetic, spineless coward.

Although I appreciate that the Internet provides tremendous anonymity for its users, too often this right is abused.   Perhaps some sites can figure out who we are through IP addresses and cookies, but for the most part this concealment of identity allows confidential, embarrassing, or otherwise inappropriate information from being publically revealed.   Simultaneously, I cherish that the United States values freedom of speech as one of our fundamental beliefs.  I don’t propose we make any legislative changes around privacy and/or the First Amendment, but rather, I’d like to see online communities stop accepting such blatant cowardice furnished through anonymous posts.

Even Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s most famous anonymous writers via Poor Richard’s Almanack, was never mean-spirited simply for the sake of his own entertainment.   However, one of the commenters to the Business Insider article (who refused to reveal their real name) told Alan to “go do something useful with [his] life” as well as a few other childish insults.

Not everyone has to like everyone else – I get that – but would you say something so nasty to a person you’ve never met if you were looking him in the eye?   I doubt it.  So why would you on the web?

Consequently, I pledge to never publically criticize another person without having the guts to put my name on the comment.   I hope you will do the same.

Mark Suster at Columbia

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Last week I helped organize an 250+ person evening with Mark Suster at Columbia Business School.  Mark is a venture capitalist in Los Angeles and an active blogger at www.bothsidesofthetable.com.  In a sentence: Mark killed it.  I’m not going to attempt to add to the great commentary provided by David Lerner (who also served as “question master” for the evening), the recap Mark Davis wrote (Mark D. also gave the intro), or Tobin Schwaiger-Hastanan’s summary (Tobin was the all-star photographer).  As a result, you should really check out their posts at:

With that said, I do give a little thank you in the final minute that will mortify my mother because I dropped an f-bomb and employed other foul language (although, in my defense, I was quoting Mark’s first words to me when we met this past summer).  Anyway, check out the full video:

Side note: this is my first-ever blog post from an airplane.  WordPress is pretty much as slow as it is on the ground, but at least I’ve got a better view from up here.

My Interview with “The Wall Street Journal”

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Yep, that really is Snooki from "Jersey Shore" featured in dots in The Wall Street Journal

An article I was interviewed for ran earlier today in The Wall Street Journal.  Check out the full text of Alex Hotz’s piece here: “Three Reasons Why Venture Capitalists Are Investing in New York Startups” (my quote is in the last paragraph of the “East/West Mentality” section).

The WSJ’s hedcut artists aren’t exactly asking to sketch my mug (although they did recently for the never classy Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi), but since I have the full transcript from the interview I figured I would publish it here for better context.

The WSJ’s questions are in bold and my answers are in italics.

First, do you think there’s a difference in the startup cultures in NYC and SV? If so what? How would you describe the differences?

There are absolutely differences – gigantic differences – but the nuisances seem more generational than fundamental. Specifically, today’s New Yorkers didn’t grow up in technology entrepreneurship and instead most “immigrated” into it. In other words, they haven’t always been tech people. This non-native “upbringing” means New York still has some learning to do about founding and growing startups. With that said, NYC’s naïveté is dissipating as an increasing percentage of New York’s workforce – especially in terms of engineering talent – has spent its entire career in tech entrepreneurship in NYC.

Do you think Valley VCs are more likely to accept an entrepreneur who has failed as long as their idea was new and interesting? Is New York less forgiving?

I don’t think there is any difference in how the two VC communities look at failed entrepreneurs, but there are profound differences socially. Friends and family in the Valley are more tolerant of a loved one whose startup just went under than New Yorkers are.

Are New York entrepreneurs and VCs more focused on the bottom line than SV? Is SV more invested in ideas…creating new platforms/products/etc?

I hear this a lot from my friends in Silicon Valley, but I don’t really understand their pejorative tone. I actually think the recession coupled with the decreased cost to get a business off the ground have pushed all VCs to be more focused on the bottom line. Consequently, this phenomenon is perhaps accentuated in New York because the city doesn’t have as long a history investing in ideas without fully baked business models.

Does NYC have the same sense of community as SF? Sure there’s the Ace Hotel and NY Tech Meetup, but is the scene as vibrant as SV?

The community in the Bay Area is more organic than in New York, but that doesn’t mean it’s more vibrant. NYC’s entrepreneurs and investors alike are double-booked almost every night between networking events, competitions, mentoring programs, and on and on. Additionally, the city government has focused on fostering the tech community here through NYC BigApps, a ~$20mm seed investing program, and other incentives for startups in terms of rent and taxes. Also, TechStars is opening an outlet in NYC, the TechCrunch Disrupt conference over the summer was a huge success, and our mayor is one of the most successful technology entrepreneurs of all time.

How does finance affect the startup ecosystem in NYC? Do you think Wall Street still poaches the best engineers? Are New York investors influenced by a Wall Street mentality?

Finance affects the entrepreneurial ecosystem in a variety of interesting ways. Sure, some engineers who are capable of creating new companies instead go write code for hedge funds, but the smartest and most intellectually curious engineers are joining or creating startups. Wall Street previously offered stability, but in the wake of what happened to Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, etc., joining a startup is less risky than ever before.

Chris Dixon has written about creating a startup culture like SV in NYC…do you think that’s possible? What does NYC need that the Valley has? What should New York avoid….if anything?

The single largest thing the Valley has that NYC doesn’t is a dearth of technical talent. This is changing, however, as more and more college graduates realize commuting to a nondescript office park is a distant second place to the New York lifestyle.

In your blog post you suggested that New York needs some big exits to cement its ecosystem. What companies do you think stand the best chance of doing that?

Just to name a few: Buddy Media, Conductor, Etsy, FourSquare, Gilt Groupe, RecycleBank, and SecondMarket. The companies themselves are less important than having employees of those firms see a startup from creation to exit and then leverage this knowledge to do it again and again. In the Valley, Paypal, Google, and now Facebook all have former employees who have left to start exciting new businesses; this is what New York needs to cement the ecosystem.

Anything else you’d like to add?

There are two other noteworthy phenomena:

First, the prevalence of Boston investors seemingly spending half their time in NYC (and likely the other half on the Acela). Polaris set up a Dogpatch Labs outpost here, Matrix Partners has made several investments in NYC, and others such as Spark Capital and General Catalyst have been particularly active. I keep hearing rumors from the folks that track this sort of stuff that New York will soon pass Boston as the second largest recipient of VC investment dollars…

Second, media/marketing is a huge driver of NYC entrepreneurship (and an important differentiator from Silicon Valley). Most of the largest advertising agencies are based in New York and these folks are constantly exploring new ways to reach and engage with their end customer. This mindset is why companies like Buddy Media and Conductor (both mentioned above) thrive in NYC. To put it another way, everyone in New York may not understand tech entrepreneurship, but everyone certainly understands marketing and how important doing it well is to growing a company.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

Friday, August 6th, 2010

This coming fall, a significant number of American school children will surely participate in the seminal back-to-school exercise of describing what they did on their summer vacations.  Since I’m concluding my last summer vacation ever (sniff, sniff), I figured I would put together some of the highlights of my venture capital internship with Greycroft Partners.  Here’s some of what I did – in no particular order:

Met a ton of people

Just based on the business cards I’ve amassed, I had meetings with over 200 people in about 50 business days.  It’s been crazy, but really fun.  This stack of cards (pictured is the real pile) includes everyone from aspiring entrepreneurs to CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and all sorts of folks in between.

Got entangled with Russian Spies

Okay, okay.  That’s a picture of one of the other Russian spies, but it sure makes for a better image than dowdy Cynthia Murphy‘s mug shot.  Alas, Cynthia Murphy became a very important person in my life not for spying on Greycroft partner Alan Patricof, but because she was nabbed by the U.S. authorities the day before she was supposed to process my payroll paperwork.  When you’re a graduate student in the country’s most expensive city, getting paid on time is a big deal.  Anyway, her arrest meant I got paid two weeks late, but at least it makes for a decent story.

Partied with rap stars

This is embarrassing to admit, but MC Hammer’s album “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” was the first CD I ever bought with my own money.  Weeks of saved allowances went into that purchase, and it was so worth it.  MC Hammer was rad when I was nine years old (oh, and I *might* have also owned a pair of “hammer pants” – awful).  Anyway, since the height of his music career he had a very public decline only to rise again as, in the words of my brother Tim, “the king of Twitter.”  This picture was taken last night at the Ink Hotel and despite MC Hammer’s attire (nobody had a suit jacket on except him and will.i.am), he was very down-to-earth and personable.  I’m glad I liked him because the nine year old me would have been devastated if MC Hammer wasn’t a good guy.

Learned Los Angeles is actually pretty cool

Having grown up in northern California, hating LA is in my blood.  However, spending some time with Greycroft’s Santa Monica-based team when they visited NYC has me realizing there are some awesome people out there.  I still hate the Dodgers and the fact Los Angelenos insist on driving everywhere, but other than that they’re pretty cool.  Here’s Dan “The Danimal” Murillo buying a miniature cupcake.  I wanted to use the much better photo I have of Josh Yang (the LA summer intern and ninja extraordinaire) from a conference, but that pic has been “intentionally misplaced.”

Witnessed @alanjpatricof‘s first tweet

He threw me under the bus and claimed I “forced” him to get on Twitter (not true!), but I still witnessed Alan setting up his account and composing his debut tweet.  I hope he becomes a regular user because if there’s anyone who can maximize the hilarity of 140 characters, it’s him.  Sorry @marissa_alex!

So these are just some of the highlights from a fantastic summer.  I also spent time digging into exciting new sectors, conducting diligence on active deals, and working with portfolio companies, but those activities don’t make for as lively a blog post.  Nonetheless, Greycroft is an awesome place to work.  I learned much more than I ever could have anticipated and picked up a great new crew of friends/colleagues.  Greycroft is also hiring a pre-MBA associate so be sure to apply if you want to join a great team.

Finding New Nerds

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Me crossing the finish line of the Rhode Island Ironman 70.3 (my age group started an hour after that clock so my official time was just under eight hours; I'm in the red shorts)

A nerd and a triathlete might seem like unlikely bedfellows, but this past weekend in Providence taught me otherwise.  On Sunday, I raced in the Rhode Island Ironman 70.3 triathlon which entails a rough 1.2 mile ocean swim, followed by a brutal 56 mile bike, and concludes with a hilly 13.1 mile run.  The professional competitors finished in four hours which is about twice as long as it took Samuel Wanjiru of Kenya to win the Beijing Olympic’s marathon.  In fact, most endurance athletes consider a half Ironman to be about as challenging as two back-to-back marathons.  Needless to say, this isn’t a place one would expect to find many nerds.

Wrong.

Despite the field of 1400 competitors consisting almost entirely of former high school and college athletic stars, this wasn’t the typical crowd of jocks.  Instead, the field of 1400 was really a collection of extreme nerds who lack pocket protectors and Dungeons & Dragons t-shirts, but don high-tech wetsuits and NASA-inspired racing helmets.  There are a number of different theories for the nerdiness found in triathletes, but I think it’s because of the diverse knowledgebase required to even get to the start line.  During training, triathletes need to acquire an advanced understanding of a wide range of nerdy subjects including biological chemistry, meteorology, aero and hydrodynamics, mechanical engineering, and game theory.

In the starting area, I overheard a heated argument around the merits of different models of heart rate monitors (reminiscent of a Wii vs. PS3 vs. Xbox debate), chatted with a woman more loyal to her Cytomax sports drink than even the most diehard MacHeads are to Apple (she even says it helps her “reboot” better), and then there was the guy sketching (in the sand with his toe) how to leverage Bernoulli’s principle to be best positioned in a pack of swimmers.

Congrats computer geeks – some of those jocks that once crammed you into a locker are now envious of your nerdy knowledge.