The Evolution of Marketplaces

April 8, 2014

In the early days of the web Craigslist’s horizontal listing based marketplace was all things to all people as speed, simplicity and liquidity were the key success factors in the market. A few vertical competitors emerged in the late 1990s and early 2000s, illustrated by sites like Monster, 1stdibs and HomeAway. They typically retained a listing based business model, but offered better content quality and more sophisticated tools and search.

In the mid and late 2000s, vertical sites became transactional, managing the payment process and taking a percentage of the proceeds. By closing the transaction loop their reviews also became accurate. By simplifying the transaction process and improving trust, sites like Etsy and Airbnb not only took share from Craigslist but grew their category dramatically.

Partly spurred by Craigslist inability to innovate, there has been an explosion of vertical sites of late as illustrated by the timeline below. The latest trend in marketplaces is the emergence of what I dubbed “end-to-end” or “e2e” marketplaces. Others have also referred to them as “full-stack” marketplaces. Even though transactional marketplaces simplified the purchase experience somewhat, they still require the seller and the buyer to do a lot of work. The seller has to take pictures, write titles and descriptions, come up with a price, and answer questions from buyers. Once it’s sold the seller also needs to pack and ship the item. For buyers depending on the category the experience can also be traumatic. A car buyer for instance needs to deal with financing, insurance, and registration, not to mention the fear of buying a lemon. To address these issues end-to-end marketplaces absorb the friction typically borne by buyers and sellers and do the work for them. They have emerged for product marketplaces (e.g;. Beepi, Lofty, Suitey, AptDeco, Fobo, Munchery), service marketplaces (e.g.; Uber, HomeJoy) and information marketplaces (e.g.; DoctoronDemand, Clarity, Rise).

These end-to-end marketplaces won’t completely take over the market. By virtue of their structure there is a limit to their potential market share. However, by focusing on high end customers who value their time and the quality of the experience above all else, they may end up capturing a large share of the profits in the market. As a result Read More →

Great presentations on Bitcoin

Bitcoin confuses people. They don’t grasp what it is and how it works. The two presentations below are the best I have seen. They clearly present how Bitcoin works and analyze the opportunities in the Bitcoin ecosystem.

Enjoy!

There is something magical about skiing in powder!

February 24, 2014

It’s hard to describe why, but somehow I find the sensation of gliding in untracked powder quasi-spiritual.

For your viewing pleasure I am attaching video footage from my GoPro on a recent trip to Mica with my brother, dad and one of my best friends.

The Martian is Robinson Crusoe on Mars

February 23, 2014

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Andy Weir’s book gripped me from the start. I typically don’t like books written in the first person, even more so when the entire book is a series log entries without dialogue. Obviously, I was willing to make some allowances given that he’s alone on Mars with no one to talk to. In any case, I need not have worried as his journey was thrilling and the technique surprisingly effective.

The entrepreneur in me really related to his experience. It felt he was running a startup which had taken a wrong turn, leaving him with extremely limited resources and desperate for an exit strategy. I loved how he would take a seemingly insurmountable problem, break it down in pieces to solve each issue one by one using his engineering skills. That’s the entrepreneur way!

The book is very scientific, but easily understandable by lay people. It is also much more humorous than I expected. I loved Mark Watney rants against his fellow astronaut’s music, movie and literary tastes, not to mention Murphy’s Law.

Read The Martian, you won’t regret it!

Command Authority is Tom Clancy’s best book in years

February 22, 2014

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It’s also the best book he co-wrote with Mark Greaney. I suppose the bar is not very high given the quality of their latest books, but I really enjoyed this one. The topic is uncannily timely given the current events in Ukraine. The book cleverly integrates Red Storm Rising-style sequences, like the fantastic opening passage of the book, with the Jack Ryan intelligence analyst sections. I wish there were more of the former. However, given the gimmick of having the story unfold in parallel both in the present day and 30 years ago, I was happy to see Jack Ryan Sr. back in action as his younger more active self.

I have to admit I am not sure how objective this review is. I grew up on Clancy books in the 1980s and 1990s and lamented his passing a few months ago. This book managed to hit all the right touches of nostalgia. All the characters I grew up loving make an appearance. Somehow it also felt very relevant and I was entertained throughout.

If you are an old school Clancy-fan, Command Authority is worth checking out.

50 reasons why this is the greatest time ever

February 5, 2014

In The Case for Optimism I outlined both why we are better off than we have ever been in history, especially if we live in the West, and why the future is so promising. USA Today, of all places, just published a lot of the statistics underlying the first part of my argument.

Consider that if you make more than $34,000 per year you are in the richest 1% of people in the world and that you have a standard of living unimaginable by the wealthiest people in the world a hundred years ago.

All 50 reasons are very powerful and warrant reading in their own right, you can find them at:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/02/02/greatest-period-in-history/5161935/

Fantastic presentation on customer acquisition

January 7, 2014

My good friend Saar Gur who is a general partner at Charles River Ventures just posted a brilliant presentation on customer acquisition. He explains that most startups fail because they don’t acquire customers profitably.

This goes to the heart of how Jose and I invest. As I mentioned in Why we play Moneyball rather than Powerball, we care deeply about unit economics. We want you to show us that even at a small scale your long term value (LTV) per customer is greater than your customer acquisition cost (CAC). In fact, we don’t think a business has great unit economics unless the projected net contribution margin per customer in the first year is 2x the customer acquisition cost.

Saar not only presents how to calculate the CAC and LTV, but presents the various channels and their pros and cons. In our experience, the success of channels varies dramatically from business to business. Google SEM seems to always work for us in businesses with high LTV, but in some cases like fashion where pictures are very powerful, display ads and Facebook can be much more cost effective. We have also been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of TV.

Read the presentation.

2013: The Dawn of a New Beginning

January 3, 2014

I spent most of 2013 living with the consequences of the life changing decisions I made in late 2012 (2012: A Transition to New Beginnings!) of leaving OLX (Why I am leaving OLX) and radically simplifying my life (The Very Big Downgrade).

For the first time in 7 years, I was finally able to spend over 30 consecutive days in the same country several times during the year. I ended up spending around half the year in Cabarete in the Dominican Republic which I elected as a base of operations. It allowed me to find a good work / life balance. My typical day involved working from 8 am to 2 pm, kiting from 3 pm to 5 pm and playing tennis from 7 pm to 9 pm, before reading, writing or playing video games.

I was finally able to take the time to invest in my friends and family. Around 45 of them joined me for two weeks in Anguilla at the beginning of the year in late January and 35 of them are visiting me right now in Cabarete. I was pleasantly surprised by the constant stream of friends who came to visit alleviating my fears of social isolation from not spending much time in New York in 2013.

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This setting allowed me to finally put aside most of the health issues that had been plaguing me for years and I was finally able to play sports with renewed gusto. The year started with a bang as I joined Richard Branson on Necker Island for kiting and tennis. I then went heliskiing with Mica in Februadry and March, before spending most of the rest of the year in Cabarete kiting and playing tennis. The only snafu came when a beginner kiter crashed into me in August, fracturing one of my ribs and putting me on the sidelines until November.

On the professional side, I did not yet take the plunge and become CEO of a new company as I am still looking for an opportunity big and compelling enough. Instead, I helped incubate two next generation marketplaces which I joined as executive chairman. I built a tech team in Bucharest. I was also given the chance to give the closing keynote at LeWeb in Paris where I shared Read More →

The Case for Optimism

We live in difficult times. Financial crisis, sovereign debt crisis, euro crisis, Syrian conflict, global warming. We are bombarded nonstop with despairing news. In Europe, the mood is morose and the prospects seem dire. The general consensus is that things are going to be bad, the only conversation is around how bad things will get.

Well, I have good news for you for the consensus is dead wrong! We are in fact facing a wonderful future and I want to explain to you why. Let me take you back in time to the late 1970s for they seemed to mark the beginning of the end of Western Civilization. OECD countries were suffering from stagflation with inflation and unemployment above 10%. We had suffered from 2 oil shocks. The US had lost Vietnam. The Shah had fallen in Iran. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Dictatorships were the norm in Eastern Europe, South East Asia, Latin America and even Southern Europe. The Club of Rome had made dire predictions that the world would run out of oil, coal and many natural resources within 40 years.

No one predicted that over the next 40 years there would be democracies across Latin America, Eastern Europe and Southern Europe; that inflation and unemployment would fall dramatically; that we would see the greatest creation of wealth in the history of humanity as 1 billion people came out of poverty. 650 million came out of poverty in China alone, completely changing urban landscapes across the country as a whole. Despite 40 years of record consumption of oil and natural gas we now have more reserves than we did then. The way we work and live has been profoundly transformed by computers, the Internet and mobile phones.

If we take a further step back, we can see that over the last 100 years economic downturns, be they recessions that occur every few years or bigger crisis such as the great depression, as painful as they are while we live them, barely register in a background of unabated economic growth. In fact over the last 100 years human lifespans have doubled from 40 to 80, average per capita income has tripled and childhood mortality has divided by 10. The cost of food, electricity, transportation and communications have dropped 10 to a 1,000 fold. Global literacy has gone from 25% to over 80% in the last Read More →