Come join me on my new blog: ataussig.com

My first 18 months of blogging has been an interesting experiment for me. I never liked to write when I was in school, but I have grown to enjoy it more and more as I’ve gotten older. That said, keeping up with a long-form blog like the one I’ve established here on infinitetoventure.com has been increasingly difficult as I’ve gotten busier at work.

Yes, I know that other VCs seem to find time to write long, expressive posts and still invest in a few startups along the way. Fred Wilson, Mark Suster, Bill Gurley, David Cowan, and Brad Feld (as well as a few others) have somehow figured out this work/blog balance. If you don’t follow them, I would encourage you to do so.

But fear not! I have not given up on blogging. Instead, I am changing the way I do it.

I have started a new blog at ataussig.com. Follow it on tumblr. Or, point your favorite RSS reader here, if that’s your thing. Even easier: follow me on Twitter at @ataussig, as I will tweet out new posts.

I think you’ll agree that the new blog is a bit sleeker and set up for me to produce wonderful bite-size knowledge nuggets for you all to consume on a more regular basis.

Anyway, I will post here from time to time, but please do follow me over to my new home at ataussig.com. Looking forward to seeing you there!

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A (Mobile) Dao of Web Design

Morons love to quote philosophers.New forms of media take a while to go mainstream; but, when they do, it is often because they are inspired by what came before. Referencing a more familiar, mainstream medium has often proven to be a successful strategy, as these examples show:

  • Early radio broadcasts were self-promotions for department stores, who also happened to own the radio stations in an era before radio advertising or listener sponsorship.
  • Early TV broadcasts were basically “radio with pictures.” (Check out Queen Elizabeth’s 1957 Christmas broadcast, her first ever.)
  • Early music videos almost always featured the band performing, and even more often an extended closeup of the lead singer. (Watch “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins.)
  • The first GUI-based operating systems featured desktops, folders, and windows — all metaphors drawn from the physical world.
  • Some of the first websites were little more than online bulletin boards populated by hyperlinks to other parts of the web. Tim Berners-Lee himself called his site an Online Virtual Library in 1991.
  • Who can forget that endearing “You’ve Got Mail!” sound that played when you logged into AOL from your 28.8k dialup modem? Your mailbox was, of course, a metaphorical one that helped bring email to the mainstream.
  • Facebook’s initial UI was based on the traditional facebook given to Harvard College students at the beginning of their first year.

John Allsopp made this point elegantly in his canonical blog post entitled A Dao of Web Design, written when Web 1.0 was at its peak of the hype cycle in 2000. He drew a connection between the oldest and newest forms of media at the time — the written word and the browser-interfaced webpage, respectively.

Allsopp did not make this point nostalgically, however. He was instead worried that the web, still in its infancy, was headed in a dangerous direction, mainly due to its dependency (perhaps over-dependency) on its printed parent:

The web is a new medium, although it has emerged from the medium of printing, whose skills, design language and conventions strongly influence it. Yet it is often too shaped by that from which it sprang. “Killer Web Sites” are usually those which tame the wildness of the web, constraining pages as if they were made of paper – Desktop Publishing for the Web. This conservatism is natural, “closely held beliefs are not easily released”, but it is time to move on, to embrace the web as its own medium. It’s time to throw out the rituals of the printed page, and to engage the medium of the web and its own nature [emphasis added].

Almost 12 years later, we are experiencing a new revolution in the webpage, but this time the stakes are higher. Why? Because of an onslaught of mobile devices. Continue reading

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My belated homage to Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Apple LogoWhen Steve Jobs died, I decided not to write anything. There wasn’t much I could say about Steve, having never met the man and knowing little about him as a person. Yet, like most of us who have dedicated our lives to advancing technology, I felt a strange affinity for him. I read the outpouring of anecdotes, watched countless product intro’s and interviews on YouTube, and even read his official biography by Walter Isaacson (which was excellent, by the way).

Even after absorbing all I could, I found myself at a loss for words. The problem with saying something profound about Steve Jobs is that, no matter what you might say, Steve has probably said it already himself…and said it more eloquently.

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Go after monolithic markets

Caution: CliffOne of the great things about moving from one place to another is all the free stuff people leave behind. A few weeks ago, Highland shuffled out of its decade-long digs on Route 2W in Lexington, MA and headed over to our brand new office in Kendall Square near MIT. Lying on the floor (the floor!) in Lexington was a paperback copy of Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm. I had never read it but have always wanted to, so I dug in.

Moore was trained as a high tech marketer, so the guy has a particularly strong set of views on what actually constitutes a “market.” To most of us, defining what we mean by a market would seem like a useless semantic exercise, but Moore makes it tangible and useful.

Here is Moore’s definition of a market (p. 28 of 2002 edition):

  • A set of actual or potential customers
  • for a given set of products or services
  • who have a common set of needs or wants, and
  • who reference each other when making a buying decision.

He draws particular attention to the last bullet. Why is the connectivity of customers important in the definition of a market? Continue reading

Posted in Advice, Entrepreneurship, Technology | 2 Comments

Two brains. One VC.

Brain slug partyWhen people ask me why I like my job, my answer usually contains one of these three reasons:

  1. I love technology and imagining how it will shape the future.
  2. I love working with entrepreneurs.
  3. I love doing lots of different things simultaneously.

Lately, I’ve been having trouble with #3. It supports the time I spend quickly evaluating hundreds of companies each year, but it undermines another crucial aspect of a VC’s job: performing deep due diligence on a select few of these. In fact, when I switch between “sourcing” and “diligence” modes, I often feel like I’m using two different brains — one that’s good at frenetic pattern matching, and another that’s good at pursuing hypothesis-driven investigation.

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Peter Thiel and the definite future

Child of the futureI attended a discussion with Peter Thiel yesterday at Harvard Business School. This is my second time hearing Peter speak in the last 12 months, and I find his brand of intellectual honesty quite refreshing in the age of politicized, reinforced conformity we live in today. That doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says, but you have to admire a guy who can express a uniquely contrarian viewpoint without a hint of irony. In true HBS spirit, you get the sense that he really does want to have a discussion about some of the biggest issues facing the world, not just express his views in a vacuum without the expectation of a rebuttal.

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Am I destroying civilization?

Inventor of LOLCatsI tend to think of the pursuit of technology as a humanitarian endeavor. Inventions like the printing press, steam engine, transistor, polymerase chain reaction machine, and the internet have all created immense social value, in addition to private wealth. I go into work every day hoping that I can play a small part in the invention and subsequent commercialization of the next big thing.

You see, I am a bit of a Singularitarian. Not that I believe that 2049 is the magic year when we will all upload our brains to the internet (the extreme version of Marc Andressen’s “Software is Eating the World“), but I do believe that the information content of the world will only become more organized and that our thoughts and intentions will only become more intertwined and connected. This tide cannot be reversed, especially when it comes to the proliferation of digital media.

Not everyone thinks this is a good thing. The last chapter of Chuck Klosterman’s Eating the Dinosaur tells the story of one well-known dissenter: Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. Continue reading

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