I'm Jennifer, one of the new analysts on the Investment Team at Union Square Ventures!
Before joining USV, I studied statistics and computational biology at Harvard, and then worked at a hedge fund after graduation. I'm particularly interested in new financial/banking paradigms, blockchain + decentralized networks, and genomics.
Growing up, many people around me were entrepreneurs. I was completely fascinated by the idea that you could make your own path, especially in a culture where adherence to the rules was glorified. And whether they were successful or tremendously unsuccessful, they all tried to leverage technology to make the world a better place — and I really admired that.
I'm very excited to get to know all of you — please say hello at @jml_campbell or email me at jennifer AT usv DOT com”
Hi! I’m Bethany Marzewski, and I’m thrilled to be taking over Brittany’s position as the new network General Manager at Union Square Ventures. In this role, I’ll work with the great teams at USV’s 60+ portfolio companies to expand the programming and infrastructure that we hope empowers all of our entrepreneurs to learn from each other and build better businesses.
Stepping into this role feels a lot like joining my extended family. Having spent the past four years in a variety of sales and marketing roles at a USV portfolio company, Stack Overflow, I’ve already experienced first-hand how USV’s network helps their companies help each other. When I started at Stack Overflow in 2012, they were around 50 employees, and as a journalist-turned-marketer, I had to quickly get up to speed with a lot of sales and marketing concepts. WhiIe I learned that not every answer lived within the walls of our then-office at 55 Broadway, I soon realized that being a part of USV’s network meant that I never had to look far for guidance or advice.
When I needed to better understand the Stack Overflow customer base, I discovered an in-person interview framework from the team at Meetup and the best statistical analyses tools to use from Flurry. When we were gearing up to announce our Series D funding last year, I took a page from the PR book of Foursquare. And when we wanted to effect change in diversity in tech—both internally at Stack Overflow and externally in advising the thousands of companies who used our recruitment tools—companies like Kickstarter and Tumblr gave us a lot to think about. In fact, USV’s diversity summit last year inspired me to partner with several portfolio companies and lead a new initiative, Beyond Coding, which set out to help native New Yorkers launch their careers in tech. Now, I couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to share what I learned and extend these relationships to even more people within the network.
Prior to my time at Stack Overflow, I leveraged my journalism degree from Northwestern University to take on roles in writing, communications, and consulting. Today, I’m still very involved in the Northwestern alumni network, where I serve as President of the Medill Club of NYC. When I’m not attending a local tech meetup or sporting my purple pride at an NU football game, you’ll likely find me lingering around New York’s theatre district to hit up a Broadway show. Okay, let’s be honest: I’ll be in the Hamilton lottery line.
I feel really lucky to continue to be a part of the USV network from a different vantage point, and I can’t wait to learn more from all of the portfolio companies about best practices in talent management, strategy, diversity initiatives, and more. I look forward to getting to know many of you in the months and years to come. If you have feedback on how we can make this network even stronger, I’m all ears! In the meantime, you can find me on Twitter at @bethanymarz.
We first invested in Foursquare in 2009 when the company was just getting going because we believed that location was a native aspect of smartphones. Since then our conviction about the importance of location to the mobile experience has continued to grow.
Foursquare too has grown: The company's location data now enriches the experience of 50 million people every month across the company's website and apps. The same data also powers two rapidly growing B2B business segments: Pinpoint, a programmatic ad platform, and Enterprise Solutions which include foot traffic analytics and a places API for developers (used by Apple, Twitter and more). It is a great tribute to the tenacity of the entire Foursquare team that these products and associated revenues were built during a time period that the company was routinely written off in the media.
Now the company is on the path to profitability and we are excited to lead a $45M financing that enables Foursquare to continue growing as an independent location intelligence company. There is a fantastic leadership team in place to guide this next phase. Dennis will focus on using location to create new magical moments, with Jeff taking over as CEO. Steven who has built the revenue side of Foursquare is stepping up to the role of President. Engineering will continue to be steered by Andrew working hand in hand with Jonathan now heading up product. Kinjil, Rory, Meghan and Brian round out the team leading the marketing, finance, people and legal functions respectively.”
Last week, Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times mused in his column that the Internet was getting meaner:
“If you’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook in the waning weeks of 2015, you’ve surely noticed that the Internet now seems to be on constant boil. Your social feed has always been loud, shrill, reflexive and ugly, but this year everything has been turned up to 11”.
It’s hard to argue the point. The question is, are we seeing the inevitable end state of an open permissionless medium, or is this just an ugly adolescence - one that we as a society will struggle through to reach a much better place.
We know the Internet can create amazing social value, by using collective intelligence to organize the world’s knowledge and making it immediately accessible. Google, Wikipedia, Stack Overflow, and Duolingo have shown us that. But it is nice, at times like these, to be reminded that the Internet can also bring out the best in people.
We are pleased to announce today that we are investing alongside Joi Ito in Koko, an app that does just that. Koko uses an innovative form of crowdsourced cognitive therapy to help everyone manage the day to day stress of modern life.
While doing PhD work at the MIT Media Lab, Koko co-founder Rob Morris wondered if crowdsourcing could be used to improve people's mental health and emotional well-being. To test his thesis, he built a platform to crowdsource cognitive therapy helping people facing stressful situations to rethink the causes of their stress by putting their situations in a more positive light. As a part of this thesis work, Rob conducted a clinical trial and recently published the results in a leading medical journal. The bottom line - it works. The use of the platform significantly improved mental health outcomes compared to a control group. Most interestingly, the people who helped the participants rethink their situations, were not trained professionals. They were other participants in the trial or Mechanical Turk workers who received minimal on the fly training. But the most exciting part was that the people who provided the most help on the system appeared to benefit the most. Perhaps this should not be a surprise - it makes sense that helping someone think more flexibly and positively about their life naturally reinforces one’s ability to do the same in their life.
Here is what a few of the early users have to say about Koko:
“Every time I use the app - whether to post my own struggles, rethink someone's post, or just read others' replies - my ability to rethink situations gets stronger. Koko shows that changing your viewpoint *changes everything.*”
“The biggest benefit of Koko, other than feeling like part of a caring community, is that I find myself thinking differently and it's really made an impact in my life and my overall sense of wellbeing.”
“Koko is real brain training with the real human problems. Whether it's defining your own problems or using your lateral thinking to help someone else rethink theirs or just plain learning from others. All done in confidence and support.”
All of us at Union Square Ventures are thrilled that we have been able to support Rob, and his co-founders, Fraser Kelton, and Kareem Kouddous’ effort to bring Rob’s work to a much larger audience. Koko is now available as an app for the iPhone (Android is in the works). If you are dealing with stress (and who isn’t), I encourage you to download the app and join the community that is helping themselves by helping others. If nothing else, it will remind you that the Internet can make a real positive, and lasting difference in people’s lives.”
Union Square Ventures has always been a “thesis” driven firm. We maintain specific principles about the internet that guide our investment decisions. While other things like stage and to a lesser extent geography, also matter, our thesis or point of view is the primary thing that guides our decision making.
We last wrote about this a few years ago, in Investment [email protected], where we attempted to describe this view of the world. There, we also tried to describe how dynamic the thesis is, or can be. A few years later, we have a better idea of how our thesis has evolved and now presents, circa 2015.
Since USV was founded, we have focused on the applications layer of the internet. The layer that sits on top of the relatively open and robust infrastructure of the internet, the infrastructure that allows for permissionless connectivity.
Initially, the investments related to that applications layer were what we called “large networks” - that is - broad based, mostly consumer-oriented networks that could, or at least aspired to, touch many many people (hundreds of millions or more).
Brad reduced this to 140 characters a number of years ago:
USV in 140 characters: invest in large networks of engaged users, differentiated by user experience, and defensible though network effects— Brad Burnham (@BradUSV) June 8, 2011
Over time, it became harder - and it’s still hard - for newer entrants, newer broad consumer networks - to gain scale because to do so requires them to displace the time users devote and spend on the new incumbent networks, such as Facebook.
As a result we turned our attention and applied the thesis to those services that support the larger networks - so called “enabling technologies” - that were horizontal in nature, yet also broad with respect to the numbers of networks they could potentially support.
These enabling technologies are basically businesses that provide essential services to the new crop of web companies.
These are investments such as Twilio (a communications service), MongoDB (a database service), Cloudflare (a network and security service), SiftScience (fraud protection), and Firebase (a synchronization service). And a more recent investment - Clarifai (image and visual recognition service).
Then, roughly in the 2012 time frame, we also turned our attention to thinking about market-specific networks: networks in high-value niches that are differentiated and defensible, partially because they are domain-specific. These networks generally have more subtle or less obvious network effects, precisely because they involve something more specific and tight.
These often fall into specific categories - like education or learning (Edmodo, Codecademy, Skillshare, Duolingo, Quizlet, Stack Exchange), financial marketplaces (Lending Club, Funding Circle, Circle Up, C2FO) healthcare and medicine (Figure 1, Human DX, Clue), science and engineering (Science Exchange, SimScale), the law (Casetext) and company ownership management (eShares).
These more subtle network effects also include platform shifts, such as mobile (Amino, Figure 1 or Duolingo), venue shifts (enterprise security delivered in the cloud, such as Cloudflare), and data networks like SiftScience, which delivers fraud protection by aggregating data points across thousands of domains.
Finally, and more recently we have been thinking and talking about the blockchain and bitcoin. When we analyze the network effects of the large internet platforms, it appears that part of their defensibility is through the centralization of data - user data, interaction data and transaction data.
We started to see that blockchains - by basically being a decentralized data layer - could over time erode those advantages.
So we turned the thesis to the exploration of services that could undermine larger networks by decentralizing the data asset that the large networks have. While this area is obviously early, we have made a handful investments in this decentralized layer including Coinbase (banking and brokerage), OB1 (buy and sell marketplaces) and Onename (identity).
Finally, as infrastructure providers gravitate towards the applications layer, they are underinvesting in connectivity itself at a time when the demand is growing and new technologies are available. Inasmuch as the internet itself is an enabler of creation and creativity, we believe that businesses like Veniam (the "internet of moving things") and one other unannounced investment we have made will be foundational layers for future generations of technology. So, we have also made a few investments in those telecommunications infrastructure companies with innovative technologies or business models (Access 2.0).
Importantly, the way in which we invest against this thesis is also cumulative - we don’t simply stop investing in any one area as we uncover other ones. It looks something like this, a chart of our active investments over time from 2004-present:
To capture this image into a current version of our investment thesis, we’ve reduced it again today to 140 characters.
This is USV, 2015:
As the market matures, we look for less obvious network effects, infrastructure for the new economy, and enablers of open decentralized data.— Andy Weissman (@aweissman) December 15, 2015