No. 91: Girls Killing the Technology Game

Andreessen Horowitz just posted a short interview with four high school girls who recently competed in Technovation 2015. (If you’re opening this in your email, click on the title so that you can see the podcast linked below.)

The winner of the competition was a team from Nigeria! All of the teams are really impressive. Check out their pitches.

No. 80: Can Tech and Government Work Together?

What does it look like for tech startups and governments to work together well? Andreessen Horowitz posted a new podcast with Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser today to discuss this, alongside former DC mayor Adrian Fenty. Pretty good conversation.

Some of the topics covered in the conversation, included:

1. Catching up to the technology startup sector with the proper regulatory environment;
2. The progress DC government has made in incorporating technology in its service provision; and
3. Pain points that startups could be helpful in addressing – affordable housing and wellness are examples.

What was Mayor Bowser doing out on the West Coast talking to the Andreessen Horowitz folks when Steve Case is in town, you ask? Apparently, the US Conference of Mayors met in San Francisco a few weeks ago. Further, the DC connection to Andreessen Horowitz is not a particularly new one. Former DC mayor Adrian Fenty, who was also on the podcast, is a special advisor at the firm.

The intersection between governments and the startup community will only increase, particularly as Andreessen Horowitz’s theory that software is eating the world continues to prove true. It’s cool to see conversations like these taking place.

No. 77: Improving My Podcast Listening Experience 

Imagine navigation apps like Waze and Google Maps being able to recognize what podcast or radio show you’re listening to and adopting the voice of the host or artist you’re listening to in providing directions. 

Waze currently overshadows my podcast listening.  The volume on the podcast I’m listening to lowers when the Waze navigator tells me where to turn next. Because of this, I miss little details in the episodes. Integrating the directions more cleanly into whatever I’m listening to would be great – have the podcast content stop, replaced by the next set of directions in the voice of whomever I’m listening to.

There’s got to be the technology to do this. Google just updated Google Now to provide more contextual support for users. For example, if you’re texting with your friend about what movie you will, you can call up Google Now without leaving the text application. Google Now will read your text and pull up information on the movies you and your friend mentioned in your texts. There’s got to be a way to port that kind of machine learning to how apps interact sonically.  

No. 66: Watch Halt and Catch Fire

The New Yorker profile on Marc Andreessen I wrote about earlier today mentioned an AMC show, Halt and Catch Fire. I had never heard of it, but just…You should watch the show. Messed up people (who isn’t?) build a PC from the ground up in the days when PCs weighed more than your one year old son who was 10lbs at birth. Here’s the link again. Watch it. 

No. 65: Marc Andreessen and Jean-Yves Ollivier Could Have a Lot in Common

Marc Andreessen’s frenetic pace on Twitter has fascinated me for the past year. He seems to devour a ton of information and makes nice connections between the current technology landscape and the history and theory that got us to this point. The New Yorker did a helpful profile on him – the kind that makes more human a titan some may worship.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is a new name to me, but one that I will be keeping track of after reading this Bloomberg piece on his energy sector dealmaking in the Republic of Congo. Apparently, he is trying to shape his brand through the media. Perhaps he should get on Twitter and fire off some Tweetstorms like Mr. Andreessen.

There’s a BBC piece on a lake in Mongolia made up of extremely toxic waste from rare earth minerals largely used in our smartphones and renewable energy sources like wind turbine engines and electric vehicle batteries. While the majority of these minerals are mined in Asia, some African countries like Malawi are exploring their potential to produce these minerals. South Africa was a leading producer half a century ago.

The unicorns (companies with $1 billion valuations) for which Marc Andreessen spends his time looking, largely rely on the smartphone. In defending against concerns that we are in a bubble due to the massive amount of money going into funding startups, he points out that the technology sector of 2000 did not have a conductor like the smart phone to enable the growth of the industry, hence the bust. We have the smartphone now and he believes that the software on those phones is eating the world, and the technology industry’s growth is here to stay for quite some time.

The robots that Mr. Andreessen envisions taking over menial jobs, freeing us up to do what we want, will most likely need parts from minerals in parts of the world like Mongolia and Malawi. Unless we come up with clean ways to source these materials, we could see lakes like the one in Baotou pop up in southern Malawi. Brokers like Mr. Ollivier are helping make these deals happen, enabling the creation of the smartphones, robots, and other tools that people like Mr. Andreessen believe will drive our future world. Two men. Two different worlds. Perhaps.

No. 63: What is Happening in Africa’s Cybersecurity Space?

Andreessen Horowitz just wrapped up a series on the current cyber security landscape. It got me thinking about what the cybersecurity landscape looks like in African countries. In particular, I’m interested in cybersecurity work going on at the intersection of telecommunications and banking. Nigeria has a policy of reducing the circulation of cash in the economy by 2020, and launched a national ID card program last year that incorporates banking capabilities. The dominance of mPesa and mobile money in Kenya has been the talk of the town for several years now.

My two main questions are:

1. What are the cybersecurity risks companies and the respective countries are dealing with here?

2. Who are the leading companies working on these issues?

Look out for a future post on this after I talk to some folks and read up a bit.

Here are links to the Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) security series:

Getting Security Right Isn’t As Hard as You Think (But the Effort Never Ends)

Barbarians at the Gate — How to Think About Enterprise Security Today

Making Security More Usable

My three takeaways from the series are:

1. Companies can no longer think about their security in binary terms, that is, “We are breached. We are not breached.” Today, the thinking is more, “We are probably breached right now. What are we doing to mitigate the impact of this.”

2. Security and speed historically have somewhat of an inverse relationship. As content moves back and forth faster, the harder it is to ensure that nothing compromises it.

3. After seeing what happened to Target’s executive team after their highly publicized credit card breach, company executives are communicating more with their security teams to ensure that they have the systems in place to mitigate similar attacks that could get them fired.

No. 52: Municipal Broadband Gets President Obama’s Attention

I was excited to read that President Obama has set his sights on ensuring that cities can develop their own broadband networks, should they choose to do so. While working with the Georgia Municipal Association, we had a couple of close calls that would have prevented Georgia cities from operating their own broadband networks. President Obama is going to hold a press conference tomorrow to outline his plan for improving broadband connectivity. His main initiatives include:

1. Pushing for an end to laws in states that prohibit the development of broadband services;

2. Growing a network of cities committed to growing broadband connectivity in their communities;

3. Provision of technical assistance for the development of broadband networks in community;

4. Offer of loans and grants for rural broadband providers; and

5. Creation of Broadband Opportunity Council tasked with identifying regulatory barriers with the goal speeding up broadband deployment and uptake.

This is important to watch. The US economy is bouncing back in some ways, but there is yet more economic potential to realize. After following the writings of founders and investors like Marc Andreesen and Peter Thiel, I am convinced that the internet economy will be driving that realization for the next several years. We need as many people as possible participating.

No. 34: Zendesk IPO Predicts Dropifi’s Future

The Dropifi team probably felt chills running through their bodies while watching Zendesk’s share price rise 49 percent on day one of its IPO on Thursday, and then reach a $1B market cap on its second day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Here’s why:

1. Big Sandbox – In its Form S-1 filing, Zendesk highlights International Data Corporation intel pointing to the customer relationship management market being $20.7B, as of 2012. Zendesk did $72M in revenue in 2013. Couple that with IDC’s projection that software as a service (SaaS) platforms will grow 10x faster than legacy platforms in a world with 76M small-to-medium sized businesses, and you get the picture. Zendesk has 42,000 customers. Dropifi has 8,000 customers. Dropifi has a lot of sand to work with to build its own castle.

2. Little Sibling Effect – I’m the oldest of my siblings and after breaking through many new seasons of life, I’ve watched my siblings do everything better than me. Dropifi has the same opportunity to watch Zendesk’s missteps and capitalize on the lessons learned. This will be critical in customer acquisition. With more than 8,000 customers, Dropifi is behind the 10,000 customers Zendesk had in its fourth year of operation.

In David Cummings’ post last night, he pointed to design as one of the big differentiators between the first and second generation SaaS companies. Dropifi may have some work to do to compete with Zendesk here. This has been a tough post to write because I want to pull out my yoga mat every time I pull up the Zendesk site.

The bottom line is that Dropifi has an opportunity to scale massively. After hearing David Osei, CEO of the company, speak at Harvard’s Africa Business Conference, the company certainly has the hunger to make this happen. More than 10 500Startups companies, which recently eclipsed the 500 mark, have been acquired. Dropifi is already the incubator’s first Africa-originated company. If Dropifi can avoid acquisition by Zendesk, Salesforce, or another player in the CRM space, perhaps we could see it be 500Startups’ first company to reach IPO-status. 

What else? Do you think Dropifi has what it takes to compete with the likes of Zendesk?