Martin Gurri’s book now looks prophetic. It can teach us about the present crisis

In 2014, Martin Gurri published Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millenium. Gurri, a former CIA analyst, argues that the Internet did more than just enable new voices to be heard. He argued that it fractured any common notion of the public and dissipated authority. It was a brilliant book with exquisite timing. In 2014, most people still thought the Internet was primarily a tool for a certain type of protest: progressive and giving a voice to the unheard. …

Debt isn’t the worst idea for startups, but it’s not as simple as just “coming”

Recently, a blog post Alex Danco called “Debt is Coming” made the rounds in VC Land, arguing that we are on the cusp of seeing more debt in the startup landscape. While this blog post blew up, the general concept has been floating around for a while, perhaps best popularized by Bryce Robert’s debt over equity movement.

Debt is typically seen as a negative signal. It often indicates a lack of availability of more prestigious capital.

On top of that, debt creates “dead weight” that must be paid off, and startups often lose money, meaning that the money will come from equity in a future fundraise. …

Why we’re going to see a lot more of rounds like Front and what to make of it

The most recent round by Front, an email collaboration app, made a lot of waves: not for the $59m raise size or the $800m valuation but for who lead it. You see, Front’s Series C was led not by the usual suspects or even a VC firm at all. It was led by a consortium of operators. This has been described by many as “rare” or “surprising,” but I would argue this is the apotheosis of the operator VC model started by a16z a decade ago. I think it’s also more important than VC-land has been treating it.

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The founder fetish

But first, a little history. Even though the current VC meme is “value-add,” that was the pitch of the original VCs too. Read Tom Nicholas’s VC: A History, especially Chapter 6, and you will be amazed at the lengths to which VCs helped build companies when the industry was in its infancy, including sometimes inventing some of the core technologies. They might as well have— VCs used to have much more skin in the game, sometimes taking over half the company in a single round.¹ But this changed over time, and VCs got a reputation for being clueless MBAs who had never built companies themselves. This feud is perhaps best typified by the one-time spat between Marc Andreessen and Bill Gurley. …

Kenneth Arrow and the Unique Marketplace

In his 1963 paper, Arrow outlined what makes healthcare different than other industries. It’s been called “the article that launched a thousand studies,” but that would be understating it: Arrow framed the entire field of health economics, and thus the debates surrounding one of the largest sectors of every economy on the planet.

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Kenneth Arrow receiving the Nobel Prize in 1972.

Arrow specifies five characteristics of the healthcare market, none of which are totally unique to medical care but none of which are all present in any other market:

  1. Demand is weird. It’s basically random, it is super high value, and it has uniquely strong emotional associations.
  2. Ethics are super important. There’s no way to test it before you use it despite the emotional risk.¹ The result: an unusual ethical obligation among physicians. …

The story of how we designed Jovono’s brand

This is the story of how we designed Jovono’s brand and a meditation on branding in general. We hope that explaining how we approached our branding might be helpful for you as well.

The Base Layer and Logo

A lot of VCs have brands that are kind of boring. We set out to be different from the start. We hired Liliya Kriulina to design our brand.

A brand needs to capture the values of your company, and your first exercise is selecting words that represent those values. Ours were growth, investment, positive change, authenticity, creating value, and futurism. It’s essential to start here because you want to subconsciously evoke those connotations. Even if you fail to evoke these things, the exercise of writing them out is helpful to hone your own focus. …

From 1958 to 1963, Americans had many reasons to be nervous about the future of technology. The Cuban Missile Crisis viscerally brought home that the crowning achievement of the atomic age, the nuclear bomb, had introduced the risk that a minor conflict could destroy the world by accident, all while Sputnik showed that the USSR had surpassed American engineering. Yet, one of the most popular comic strips during that period was Arthur Radeaugh’s Closer Than We Think, which ran in newspapers across America. Even in the depths of existential despair, we managed to maintain a sense of optimism surrounding the future that could flow from technology. It’s not just Radeaugh. In times long past, the popular press focused on our exciting future. Hugo Gernsbacks, of the Hugo Award, had a series called “Amazing Stories.” …

Here are 8 tips for pitching to Jovono. These are our idiosyncrasies and should be viewed as supplements to any good pitching strategy.

Explain precisely what you’re betting on

Every startup is based on the idea that you’re changing the world in a big way. That involves uncertainty, which means taking a bet. In a pitch, you should be specifying a model of the world and then, through your startup, betting on each variable. These bets could be on technology, social acceptance, market structure, whatever. …

How we turned a John von Neumann inspiration into a firm name

But hey, the tech industry has a long history of goofy names! Like, why is there a ! in “Yahoo!”? Makes for an awkward read. Names like “Google” embody technology not just as paragons but in form. Google is named after the decidedly nerdy googolplex, an impossibly large number. It’s a name that sounds silly until it dominates and has a simple genius in its memorability because no one ever realized you could give a company a name like that.

Jovono is named for John von Neumann (JOhn VOn Neumann. Neumann doesn’t have an O, but it’s pronounced No-ee-man, so close enough?). von Neumann was last century’s great genius and a polymath in every sense of the word. Among other things, he made foundational contributions to algebra, game theory, and probability. He invented cellular automata and the von Neumann architecture. He also led the team that built one of the first modern computers, the ENIAC. He was a cultural leader in academia’s open culture and a commercial success. His work ranged from the hopelessly abstract to the dutifully applied. …

Jovono book review #1: Decoupling markets from capitalism

Glen Weyl, a professor of mine from undergrad, has a new book out with his now-frequent coauthor, Eric Posner, called Radical Markets. It’s interesting. At its core, Radical Markets is about a decoupling. Their radical thought is that markets don’t automatically imply capitalism, even though they support markets and the competition they imply. The great thing about markets is competition, and the bad thing about capitalism is its tendency towards monopolization, contra Peter Thiel, who celebrates monopolies in Zero to One. Their notion of competition is so extreme it even views private property as a suspect form of monopolization. The table of contents misleadingly suggests a disorderly work. One might mistake it for a cousin of Freakonomics, a good book by Steve Levitt, another Chicago economist. Though Freakonomics sort of has a theme — demonstrating Levitt’s organizing principle of economics, that “incentives matter” — ultimately, it’s just a popular retelling of some of his most famous papers, an increasingly common genre among economists and public policy types. From the get-go, Radical Markets tries to convince you it’s something else because it’s pursuing an ideological goal. Although this book is about economics, it reminds me of the project of VC. Our job is to find new markets, and companies that create marketplaces are often the most profitable. The path to success is often about holding onto a core conviction such that you abandon a surprising principle in a way that is coherent, causing you to see new markets. …

Sincere questions to ponder regarding an exciting new market

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about scooters.

The valuations are pretty high….

But it’s not without reason! Not totally crazy.

So, in no particular order, here are what I consider to be some unanswered questions regarding dockless scooter companies.

I want to clarify: these are not “subtle neg” questions. That is, I’m not asking these questions to subtly suggest that I think the answer is negative (similar to those annoying Twitter trolls who post stupid political stuff and say “interesting”). …


Evan J. Zimmerman

Chairman of Jovono, among other things. I don’t write medium posts, I write excellent ones.

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