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Data Beats Math –Why Apple’s Maps Failure is a Big Data Problem October 4, 2012

Posted by John Vrionis in Uncategorized.
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At Lightspeed, we’ve been investing in the theme of Big Data over the last four years.  We like to say that at the core of the theme is the simple idea that “data beats math” or put another way that predictive algorithms working with data samples will never beat analysis where ALL of the data is evaluated.  

We started by investing in building block companies, DataStax and MapR, two pioneers building enterprise class platforms for “big data” workloads by leveraging Cassandra and Hadoop.  But we’re also big believers that with these innovative technologies maturing almost every industry, from healthcare to retail, will benefit from the power of “big data” solutions. 

There are already some industries benefiting by harnessing the power of these new technologies and pointing them at specific problems where better answers could be derived by looking at MORE data FASTER – companies like ZestCash* that is using big data to provide customers with better options in financial lending and Boundary* which is using big data to revolutionize the IT monitoring space.   

The recent chatter about how Apple Maps pale in comparison to Google Maps – ignited by all the iOS 6 users who are now forced to use the Apple product is a perfect example of “data beats math” in action. 


Why?  In addition to harnessing data from across the network (Google Earth, Listings, etc.), Google Maps has the potentially insurmountable advantage of using collected, historical data about what routes users actually take.  They use that information to drive and prioritize recommendations the next time somebody asks for the same directions or the same location.  

Conversely, Apple’s data set is infinitely smaller and therefore less accurate.  So until Apple builds up enough historical data to compete with Google, the product will be inferior because at the risk of over simplification it has to “guess” about the answer.  And as many have pointed out on Twitter, blog, etc. right now guessing just isn’t cutting it.   

The big question is will people endure the inferiority of Apple Maps long enough to let Apple capture enough data to provide comparable answers to the Google Maps product?  Time will tell, but for my part I’ll be seeking out alternatives for my iPhone.

*Lightspeed backed companies

A Tremendous Day for Nicira And The Networking Industry July 23, 2012

Posted by John Vrionis in Uncategorized.
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With their acquisition of Nicira today, VMware is making a brilliant strategic move that gives them not only the leading network virtualization technology but also a world-class of team of executives and engineers.  Congratulations to Martin, Steve, Rob, Alan, JJ, Paul, Denis and the entire Nicira team – for me, and the rest of the Lightspeed team, it’s truly a privilege to have been a part of the effort where an entrepreneurial team realizes a vision and begins to transform an industry.

Nicira is fundamentally changing networking as we know it, much in the same ways that server virtualization changed the datacenter only a few years ago.  The company virtualizes the network, separating the logical network from the physical topology, much like server virtualization decouples the virtual machines from the underlying server hardware. With Nicira, networks can have the same dynamic and flexible operational model of virtual machines and they can be programmed and configured without disruption or manual intervention.

So while today’s news will likely center on the financials of the deal (which admittedly are tremendous for all shareholders) and how the two companies will integrate, to me, the real story is the impact that Nicira has had on the industry in just a few years and the team behind it.  These are truly some of the best talents in networking and infrastructure, more broadly, in the world.  The spotlight should shine brightly and entirely on them as they’ve done all the hard work to make this happen. 

On a more personal note, I’ve known Nicira’s co-founder Martin Casado since 2004 when we were both studying at Stanford.  He was getting his PhD and I was in Business School; we were introduced by Andy Rachleff and Nick McKeown and have been friends ever since.  Martin is a genius, really.  That word tends to be overused, but in Martin’s case it’s the absolute truth.  You don’t have to take my word for it, Scott Shenker, a co-founder of Nicira and UC Berkeley computer science professor recently told WIRED, “I’ve known a lot of smart people in my life, and on any dimension you care to mention, he’s off the scale.”

Congratulations guys, thanks again for all the effort and for letting me be a part of it, and of course to VMware for a great move. 

AngelHack Unites Programmers From Four Cities for Hackathon June 25, 2012

Posted by David Chen in Uncategorized.
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This weekend I had the opportunity to join AngelHack, a hackathon event that took place in Palo Alto, New York, Boston and Seattle, to help judge the finalists in Palo Alto.  Over 1,500 people participated in the event around the country competing for over $200,000 in prize money.

In Palo Alto, more than 30 companies presented their hack on Sunday afternoon.  I am always impressed to see what small teams can develop in just a weekend, and Angelhack was certainly no exception. From the 30, eight companies were selected as finalists:

GiveGo – Turning daily exercise into charitable micro-fundraising

Synco de Mayo – fun and easy collaborative web browsing.

Major Tom – helps app develops better understand what is happening and how users are interacting with mobile apps

FlyIO – a system that allows users to navigate their computer with your eyes and a webcam

Humans++ – makers of Pull, a device that makes it easier to navigate using the GPS from your phone

Xmit – simplified file sharing

Bling Labs – makers of Wishboard, a crowd-sourcing tool for ideas

Steer the Beat – Pandora meets Spotify meets Turntable

Congratulations to GiveGo, which was named the winner in Palo Alto, and to all of the teams that participated in this round!

Next up, the top 20 companies from around the country will all meet in Palo Alto on July 12 for the grand finals where two big winners will receive $25,000 in seed funding.

Follow us on twitter @lightspeedvp

WSJ recognizes the surge in fan fiction June 18, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Uncategorized.

I’ve posted in the past about how tablets and kindle will change reading. Friday’s WSJ had a big story on the fan fiction phenomenon that is well worth reading. One of the companies that they call out is Wattpad, which recently raised a large round. Watch this space, both writing and reading will continue to change as tablets and kindles take share from physical books.

Direct Selling; Is it the Next Driver Of Startup Commerce Companies? April 14, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Uncategorized.
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I just wrote a guest post on TechCrunch asking. “Is Direct Selling The Next Driver Of Startup Commerce Companies?” We’re seeing lots of exciting startups using this old channel to drive very fast growth.

How will Tablets and Kindles change reading? March 26, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Uncategorized.
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The first attempts to capitalize on a new medium are always simple ports from an old medium. The first TV shows were newscasts – basically the same as radio, a guy reading the news. The first e-commerce sites were cataloges ported to the internet, with the same copy and a single picture. But over time, content that is customized to each medium comes to the fore. Now we have the sit com, the police procedural and the reality show on TV, and flash sales, subscription commerce and daily deals online.  So how will Tablets and Kindles change the way we read?

The first generation of eBooks were simply ports of regular books. But Amazon has already started to experiment with a new format, the Kindle Single:

exceptional ideas–well researched, well argued, and well illustrated–between 5,000 and 30,000 words.

They recognized that the economics of print publishing have forced books to be 80-100,000 words long. Anyone who has read a business book knows that this does a disservice to both reader and writer. Some ideas have a natural length less than 100,000 words, and extending them to book length does no good to anyone. But the economics of book publishing, and the public’s willingness to pay for a “small book”, forced this convention. Ebooks have no such constaints, and allow authors to write at any length. Byliner is taking a similar approach, trying to build an eBook centric publisher.

Other companies are recognizing that eBooks lowers the barrier for self publishing more than ever before. Companies like Blurb and LuLu both started out supporting physical book self publishing and now also support eBook selfpublishing.  Fan Fiction is another related opportunity.

The WSJ noted another unexpected consequence of tables and kindle reading that is emerging, more to do with content and genre:

Electronic readers, and the reading privacy they provide, are fueling a boom in sales of sexy romance novels, or “romantica,” as the genre is called in the book industry.

As with romance novels, romantica features an old-fashioned love story and pop-culture references like those found in “chick lit.” Plus, there is sex—a lot of it. Yet unlike traditional erotica, romantica always includes what’s known as “HEA”—”happily ever after.”

Kindles, iPads and Nooks “are the ultimate brown paper wrapper,” says Brenda Knight, associate publisher at Cleis Press, of Berkeley, Calif., a publisher of erotica since 1980.

Why has tablet reading unleashed a surge in the erotic romance genre? Because online commerce has made buying the books less embarassing:

Ms. Benson says the digital format helped her get over her embarrassment. She reviews romance books for Smexybooks.com and erotica for the website Heroes and Heartbreakers. Even so, she says she wouldn’t read these books in print if she were in view of anyone. “Some of the covers are very explicit,” she says.

Erotica on the Mischief Books site is tagged with icons. Handcuffs denote “kinky”; an upraised palm means “discipline.” The HarperCollins imprint says it plans to publish at least 60 e-titles a year. “It used to be a long walk to the counter with an erotica selection, but now that’s a thing of the past,” says Adam Nevill, Mischief Books’ editorial director. (HarperCollins, like The Wall Street Journal, is owned by News Corp.

Another dimension for innovation has been around engagement. Many children’s books and apps have become highly interactive, including those from publishers like Callaway, Duck Duck Moose, and Oceanhouse Media.

I’m really excited about the ongoing innovation in reading and expect to see some very valuable companies created in this area. We’re seeing experimentation around length, authorship, genre and interactivity. What do you see as the most innovative companies in the eBooks space?

Financial services disruption sneaks up from below. March 19, 2012

Posted by jeremyliew in Uncategorized.
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A couple of weeks ago I did a guest post on PandoDaily about how big data + machine learning is creating new opportunities in lending. What’s interesting is that most of the disruption is starting in the bottom end of the market; unbanked and underbanked lending and payments. That is not an accident. I did another guest post today at PandoDaily explaining why disruption in financial services comes from below.

Commerce in the Time of Social September 29, 2011

Posted by Bipul Sinha in business models, Consumer internet, social media, social networks, Uncategorized.
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The fabric that underlies the social Internet is essentially a new web where people are the nodes, connected through a social graph. This ubiquitous people to people connection with real identities has significant implications for commerce and how we transact in the real world. The reduction in information asymmetry in the marketplace and the ability to mobilize people, through the social graph messaging and data, have the potential to unleash peer to peer commerce in a way we have never seen before.

The Rediscovery of Direct Selling Businesses

Everyone has heard stories of Tupperware parties where a group of people gathered in someone’s home for product demonstration, buying and socializing. The social media is giving a new boost to this old business model by enabling the entrepreneurial hosts to invite friends and friends of friends, and gather offline to socialize and transact, using online tools such as Facebook and Twitter. The online and offline recommendation, feedback and validation

reduce the social approval anxiety and the friction in the buying decision. The social graph-enabled direct selling business model is especially interesting for highly demonstrable products such as handbags, jewelries, shoes, home accessories, etc. These products tend to be discretionary and highly correlated with emotions, impulsive buying and discovery orientation. The innovators in this space would foster entrepreneurship by enabling individuals to participate in the value creation and get the rewards.

The Overcapacity Marketplaces

The social Internet is enabling new kinds of peer to peer marketplaces where people can transact on overcapacity. The overcapacity can be in their belongings or skills. Since the articles involved in transactions tend  to be

personal in nature, the social graph acts as a lubricant to reduce the friction and cost of transaction. The living space sharing marketplaces such as Airbnb, personal car sharing marketplaces such as RelayRides, meals marketplaces from local chefs such as Gobble, etc. are some of the examples of the overcapacity marketplaces. In each of these, participants are leveraging overcapacity, be it in their homes, cars or skills utilization to create value. These marketplaces empower individuals to run their own business models and make profits accordingly. We will witness the rise of the overcapacity marketplaces as the peer to peer commerce takes off on the back of the social Internet. The unleashing of entrepreneurial imagination and the resulting innovations would help usher in an era of collaborative consumption.

Nutanix launches and a new era for data center computing is born — No SAN or NAS required! August 16, 2011

Posted by ravimhatre in 2011, Cloud Computing, data, database, datacenter, enterprise infrastructure, Infrastructure, platforms, Portfolio Company blogs, startup, startups, Storage, Uncategorized.
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The Nutanix team (ex-Googlers, VMWare, and Asterdata alums) have been quietly working to create the world’s first high-performance appliance that enables IT to deploy a complete data center environment (compute, storage, network) from a single 2U appliance.

The platform also scales to much larger configurations with zero downtime or admin changes and users can run a broard array of mixed workloads from mail/print/file servers to databases to back-office applications without having to make upfront decisions about where or how to allocate their scare hardware resources.

For the first time an IT administrator in a small or mid-sized company or a branch office can plug in his or her virtual data center and be up/running in a matter of minutes.

Some of the most disruptive elements of Nutanix’s technology which enable the customer to avoid expensive SAN and NAS investments typically required for true data center computing are aptly described on company’s bloghttp://www.nutanix.com/blog/.

Take a look. We believe this represents the beginning of the next generation in data center computing.

The Anatomy of a Social Product August 2, 2011

Posted by Bipul Sinha in social media, social networks, startups, Uncategorized.

The social Internet is fundamentally a game changer. Unlike the web-link driven Internet, the social Internet connects people directly to one another and the resulting social graph essentially provides for a brand new, highly scalable distribution mechanism. The early adopters of the Facebook platform such as Zynga leveraged the platform’s social distribution to reach scale relatively quickly. However as the platform is restricting notifications to the users, a number of newer applications are finding it hard to get user traction and sustain engagement. In the competitive world of Facebook and other social platform applications, applications have to be fundamentally social to survive and get user attention. My acid test for an application leveraging social graph – “is the application useless in the absence of the social graph”. A “No” answer indicates a mere social layering on top which is not sufficient.

The Hierarchy of Social Interactions

A social application’s user interaction model should be around discovery and handholding users from “lookers” to “doers”. The discovery is essentially bringing together emotional, impulsive, curiosity, and other inherent psychological needs, and delighting users every time they engage with the application. The discovery aspect of a social application is what brings users back into the application and sustains engagement levels.

The hierarchy of interactions from lookers to doers is core to the discovery mechanism. A well designed social application must provide value to users who are just lookers and make no input. Such users make the majority of an application audience. The next up in the hierarchy is “one click” interactions. With this mechanism a user can vote up or down on any object created by other users. This kind of low-touch interactions help users get over the hurdle by reducing the cognitive dissonance arising out of “what to write or comment”. The next step up is “responding” to a question or comment from other users. This, again, is low hurdle activity since users have the needed context to respond with. Users who ask or comment in the first place are still next level up in the interaction hierarchy because they are dealing with low to no context resulting in higher level of cognitive dissonance. At the top of the hierarchy are users who upload or generate content. The effort needed to generate/upload content and the social approval anxiety make this step the hardest for the users. A successful social application essentially handholds users up the social interaction hierarchy and creates stickiness and high level of user engagement. As a general rule of thumb, the distribution of users in different position on the hierarchy are 80% lookers, 10% clickers, 5% responders, 3% askers and 2% creators.

A social application by its very definition involves social approval, recognition, and emotional fulfillment, and application developers should focus on reducing social approval anxiety and cognitive dissonance by creating an easier path for users to convert from lookers into doers.