Sam Lessin

Going Premium by Nate Westheimer

My dear friend Sam Lessin has gone premium and stopped blogging. It was bound to happen. After a few years of blogging and sharing his amazing insights, Sam had been writing with increased passion about the value of scarce information. Obviously, a blog keeps information from being scarce, and a pay email list puts a premium on it, and so Sam did what any self-respecting theorist would do and decided to walk the walk.

I, for one, have become one of Sam's first subscribers. I'm certain it will be worth it. But I didn't stop there. I've also started my own premium newsletter, called the "innonate insiderly."

In the "Insiderly," I'll be writing things not fit for this blog. For instance, this morning I wrote in detail about a new exercise I've asked my product team to go through. While I may have shared only general information about the exercise in a public blog post, I went in considerable detail on my thinking in the premium email setting. People who pay deserve to know, right?

We'll see how long before my "competition" subscribes.

Until then, see you here in my regular sporadic form, and see you there in my newly sporadic form.

Thesis Driven Startups & Investing by Nate Westheimer

Over the last few years, I've come to believe that the strongest startups and VCs are those armed with a strong thesis.

Why? Despite common belief, a thesis is not most important when founding a startup or deciding to fund one -- those decisions always have a thesis of some degree behind them. No, a strong thesis comes to your advantage during the difficult times of a startup's life: trying to figure out the next move, when there are a thousand options; or, deciding whether or not to follow-on in a new round, when things on paper look less than ideal.

Take this video (above), where Sam Lessin, Founder and CEO of Drop.io, dives into the thesis behind his company.

Sam is the model thesis-driven-entrepreneur. Drop.io isn't just an arbitrage between a great UI and cheap cloud storage -- that's the Drop.io that competes with every other file sharing/transfer service on the Internet -- Drop.io is a belief and investment in how the Web works today and how it will work in the future.

And what's the result? Just last month, Yahoo! developers decided to integrate Drop.io into their massively popular Yahoo! Mail solution -- giving Drop.io access to tens of millions of new customers every day -- solely because the company had been built around a thesis to provide just this service (again, view Sam's video to understand just what this means), and Yahoo! developers took notice.

In the VC world, no one (who I know) is more vocal about thesis-driven investing than Union Square Ventures. In the comments of a recent post on AVC, (Hunch co-founder) Chris Dixon and Fred Wilson had a great debate on the merits of thesis-driven investing in which Fred declared, "you've gotta have a thesis that is well articulated and well understood among the partnership. that's what Brad Burnham does for USV and it is why we are doing so well right now."

If what Fred says is true, it's been Brad's thesis and Fred's gut that said Delicious, FeedBurner, Tacoda, Etsy and Twitter would be great investments, and -- knowing the roles each play in the firm -- I'd have to agree.

But moreover, it will be the same gut and the same thesis which will cause them to see Tumblr, Disqus, foursquare, AdaptiveBlue, and their other portfolio companies, through to their respective successes.

Case in point: Disqus (disclosure - AnyClip is a premium client). Since their launch, Disqus has done quite well in terms of adoption. However, to all those whose first question is "What's your business model?" Disqus' success has seemed less obvious.

This is because Disqus is another thesis startup, and the investment in them -- and continued support -- is also purely investment driven. In an interview with John Battelle at the Conversational Marketing Summit, Fred pointed out exactly how strange such investments can seem:

Disqus which is a company that a lot of people scratched their heads about why are you messing around with a blog comment service? I think blog comments are very important piece of the social media landscape. I think of, sort of the four big channels in social media as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and blog comments and Disqus is the leading provider of third party comment system on the Web.

While I can't disclose exactly how Disqus is going to bloom into a full-fledged company, I can tell you they're on track and will be a killer company. Over the past two years, they've exhaustively executed on their thesis, and -- just like Drop.io -- are beginning to see the fruits of their work.

Meetup.com is another thesis-driven startup and another example of a thesis driving a company into the top echelons of Internet success, all the way to profitability.

As a closing thought, I feel like I should defend my ardent support of thesis-driven VCs and startups by explaining AnyClip's thesis.

First a disclaimer: AnyClip is unique, in a sense, because it's a relaunch of a earlier company. While I can't speak for the original founding vision of the company, when I arrived with Aaron and we founded AnyClip, the thesis we extracted from the old company and took with us into the new one was that "Movie Moments Matter."

Since then, as AnyClip has become our own, our thesis has evolved. Today, the thesis more or less goes like this:

"The long-term value of content is proportional to the amount of metadata about that content which empowers people to relive it."

This thesis (which I've just tried to articulate for the first time -- meaning I'm allowed to amend in the future), gives us a single-headed mission to create as much metadata as possible about moments from films, and the tools (API) to make sense of it.

Our success, and the success of other startups, will be directly due to our ability to move forward with our thesis.

Web Scatter by Nate Westheimer

Over time, everything finds its place; and on the Web, this law is no different. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I made this argument a few years ago regarding organization of offline activity and webservices in a post called "Scatter Mob." This idea actually came out of a comment I wrote on Jeremy Wagstaff's blog where I started to think about a phenomenon I've been calling "Ambiance Scatter."

Ambiance Scatter

Here's what I wrote about Ambiance Scatter in 2007 on Wagstaff's blog:

What I'm seeing with Twitter, IM, email, blogging, etc, etc is something I'm calling "Ambiance Scatter" -- kinda taking Leisa Reichelt's concept of "Ambient Intimacy" and wondering how its different levels intimacy find the most appropriate medium for broadcast.

What I noticed is that with the advent of Twitter, a B-list tech blogger friend of mine -- a great writer -- stopped blogging about personal, uninteresting to the wider-audience stuff on his blog, and instead left the "I love salad at Joe's cafe" stuff for Twitter posts.

While this was written during the very early days of Twitter, I wouldn't change much about this initial observation: with each type of communication, there seems to be an appropriate medium through which to communicate.

Late for a meeting? SMS or DM (direct message). Planning a party? Send an invite through a social network. Announcing something to your company? Email it. Tell someone you miss them? Call them. Need to disperse a rumor? Blog about it. Tell your friends you're at the bar? Foursquare it.

100 years ago all this would have happened via the postal service. Then we got telephones. Fax was the next step, and then we had email. 10 years ago, most everything on my list above would have gone via email. But Moore's Law must be at play here too.

As we find new ways to communicate, more and more appropriate media pop up; conversely, as we create new media, people find more and more ways to communicate (for many, Foursquare has replaced the flashmob communication I identified as popular on Twitter in Scatter Mob).

Again, for every type of communication there is a most appropriate medium.

This so this the Web of communication: a constantly and increasingly fragmenting and coalescing stream of messages, each finding their most appropriate avenue and bringing other like messages along for the ride.

Web Scatter

What brought me back to the idea of Ambiance Scatter after all these years? For one, it's a framework through which I'm writing a more substantial post on Twitter (hopefully to be out next week).

But another reason is because of an important slide I saw in presentation given by Drop.io's Sam Lessin a few weeks ago:

dropio-distro

In this slide, Sam articulates a similar "scatter" model I use for communication -- the idea that "over time, everything finds its place" -- but for the entire Web ecosystem of applications and workflows.

In Sam's model, however, applications are different than communication: instead of there being a "constantly and increasingly fragmenting and coalescing stream" of options, there's a natural order, with all applications moving towards their natural, fixed category of distribution, identity, or content/IO.

Now, Sam, of course, is invested in this call, and this slide (which I've posted with his permision) probably articulates more about his company's strategy than one can immediate tell by looking at their homepage, but I'm posting it is because of its value as a framework through which to see the rest of the web.

For instance, if you were to ask me what's going on with Twitter these days, I'd channel Lessin and tell you that Twitter is increasingly finding itself in its natural place as a distribution mechanism. That's it. On Twitter, identity is dead, and content is whatever's on the other end of that link you included, unless you could fit your message in the signal's 140 character limit (which many succeed at, confusing the matrix).

Now take Facebook... is it a content platform? A distribution platform? An identity platform? Like Twitter, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors to be distracted by here, but at the end of the day Facebook at its purest will be an identity platform. Each of these claims may deserve their own blog posts, so I'll just point out the influx of Facebook Connect around the Web and how quickly most content and distribution companies have given up the idea of owning identity and ceeded control of this aspect of the ecosystem to anyone and everyone -- especially Facebook.

This brings me to AnyClip and the content ecosystem.

As we're building out The AnyClip Stack, we must keep in mind what role we serve in the larger Web ecosystem, and embrace -- like Drop.io embraces -- its position squarely in the content ecosystem.

We are not an identity company... and so while we'll let you have an AnyClip account, we'll promote the ability to login using Facebook Connect and, eventually, any OpenID provider.

We're not a distribution company... and so aside from our own flagship applications on the Web, Mobile, and you Livingroom, we'll let 3rd party developers build the majority of applications which distribute our content.

In the end, we're a content company. We're taking valuable video content and giving people access to the very pieces which matter to them, while we also give compensation to the people who made the content. For the movie business, this is important work, and doing anything but acting as the "IO" for movie clips is a distraction.

Web Scatter is an important way I've started to look at the future of the Web. I hope it's useful for you too.

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