• Posts

    Double Tap

    Last night I logged into Referly for the first time in a few weeks. I’ve been trying not to do that, because there are still so many things I want to fix and when I see them I just… and I was so in love with it and it’s just… and knowing that we aren’t continuing in this direction it just… hurts. It hurts.

    I logged into the admin panel. I don’t know what I expected to see. If you’ve ever wondering what would happen if you stopped working on your startup I can tell you now so you don’t have to satisfy your morbid curiosity.

    If you stop working on your startup, it dies.

    None of this four hour workweek perpetual motion machine bullshit. It dies, or in our case it lingers on the brink of death. I’m still amazed that we have so many pageviews a day with nothing, no tweets, no Facebook posts, no blogging, no efforts to drive traffic or create new content at all (I had to let go of all our lovely writers). We turned off all our automated emails to customers, it’s been a month since we’ve sent them anything new, there are no new features (we let our engineers go too). It’s just me, Kevin and Andy now. The team went from 8 people to 3 in 24 hours. I couldn’t even go to our office for a week, it was too sad sitting there with those empty desks.

    (But don’t you dare feel sorry for me, I did all this myself.)

    It would be so easy to rationalize a case for “it’s working on its own, maybe you really have something here”. 8 new collections were made today, and 12 yesterday, and 5 the day before that… and I’m just wondering, who *are* these people? And 5 people signed up today. And 20 people logged in. Oh god, I’m actually tearing up because 175 new items were added to profiles today and these graphs look like… Actually, it kind of looks like the site is just doing its thing without us. It’s not growing, but it’s not dead.

    This is why zombies are the worst, they suck you in and prey on your worst fear.

    Did I make a huge mistake shutting this down?

    I was so good until last night! I didn’t do this for 40 days… but on the 41st I gave in. I opened my editor tools to review all the new collections being created lately, the ones making the graph look like a weak little heartbeat.

    It’s all spam.

    Sigh. Now I remember why we shut this down. Back to work.

  • Posts

    Profitable Tableau Software Raised Only $15M, Files for $150 Million IPO

    Correction: According to Reuters, Tableau has raised more than $100M in venture capital, although regulatory filings for these additional rounds have still been difficult for me to track down.

    Seattle-based Tableau Software, filed its S-1 documents for an IPO earlier this month on the New York Stock Exchange, and even snagged the sweet ticker symbol $DATA. With a total of $15M in two venture funding rounds in 2004 and 2008 from New Enterprise Associates, it can be assumed that the founders and employees of the company have managed to hold on to plenty of equity and will enjoy significant personal financial outcomes when the company enters the public markets.

    Updated with the link to the current S-1 dated April 19, 2013.

    The company provides products for data visualization that are used on your desktop to analyze propriety data sets and turn them into compelling visuals with ease. This may sound unsexy to consumer tech junkies, but it has massive value for the analysts, business intelligence and data management professionals using it every day in their jobs.

    Interactive Visualizations Build With Tableau

    It’s easier to get excited about consumer technology companies with big news, because we can easily download their app or visit their website and get hands on with the product to evaluate for ourselves how “deserving” of the good news they are. With B2B companies this can be a bit trickier, so I’ve dug up some notable data visualizations made with Tableau to give you an idea of the end results.

    A Tale of 100 Entrepreneurs“How Long Does It Take To Build A Technology Empire?” Wall Street Journal

    Sanjay Bhatt of the Seattle Times won the 2011 Gannett Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism for his story on mortgage modifications, using this data visualization.

    What Customers Are Saying

    A quick skim of Twitter reveals an active community of Tableau users, many of whom even publish their data visualizations to the web for others to see or include them in news stories and blog posts.

    The TableauLove Tumblr account, created Russell Christopher, an employee who loves them “so much so I totally stalked them (in kind of a spooky way) and convinced them to hire me”, shows a ton of interesting visualizations. The company also recently added the ability to follow other data dorks (I say this with love, being one myself).

    Naysayers Critical of Product Strategy & Sector Value

    Last month, before the IPO filing was made public, Alex Williams of TechCrunch reported he was fairly non-plussed with Tableau 8.0, bemoaning that the company has yet to release a SaaS version of its product that could be run in the browser and expressing annoyance that downloading the new Tableau Public software required Windows to install. He said:

    Tableau Software is a world-class company, but this release shows that they are behind the curve. The APIs Tableau is offering illustrate that the company is taking a new direction. But APIs have been standard for years.

    Tableau offers software that brings simplicity through visualization. During these years, a wave of innovation has happened, making it easier to do visualizations that were not possible just a few years ago. By not offering a SaaS capability, Tableau is leaving a lot on the table and forcing the company into ever deeper relationships with a host of fellow legacy software providers

    While Williams made SaaS sounds like some kind of silver bullet the commenters were not having it, criticizing the story as a “drive-by review”, “shill for Chart.io”, and pointing out “the ‘cloud’ bias that Techcrunch appears to have”. My personal favorite:


    With all due respect, Tableau is as solid as it gets when it comes to Enterprise IT. They are not building for Silicon Valley hipsters who think that their tiny little MongoDB qualifies them to be Big Data experts. They are building for real companies of mid-America, and their products solve real problem.

    O, yeah, comparing Chartio and their two customers to Tabeleau is like comparing a child’s tricycle crowdsourced on Kickstarter to a Formula One race car.


    GigaOm also cast some aspersions on the IPO, asking whether big data visualization is over hyped and suggesting that how this IPO goes will either validate or pop the big dollar amounts some market experts predict this sector will reach in the coming years.

    The Bottom Line

    If I were a founder of a profitable company that had taken very little venture capital and was looking at a massive IPO, I’d probably be thinking something along these lines.

    Congrats to Tableau. Haters gonna hate.

  • Posts,  Startup Index

    The TechStars Index – Seeking Alpha Among 162 Active Companies

    This post is part of the Startup Index Series, featuring data-driven posts about the companies in various portfolios including Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Andreessen Horowitz. Which portfolio would you like to see analyzed next?

    TechStars is a seed stage startup accelerator funding companies in Boulder, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City and Seattle. It’s mentor roster features several notable founders and venture capitalists and they self-publish a lot of stats about their companies including active companies, failure rate, funding and employees by class and more. Applications are open now for Seattle and London 2013. Apply here.

    Unlike previous indexes, this list factors in several different data points and no longer over-emphasizes web traffic. In order to avoid having these indexes gamed I am not going to reveal the exact formula I use to calculate the ranking, but I can tell you that externally measurable factors like Twitter followers, Facebook likes, page rank, inbound links and even number of employees all play a part in calculating the ranking of these companies.

    Founders, if you feel your company is ranking incorrectly, or have feedback for me about how I can make this list better I would love to hear from you. My email is morrilldanielle (at) gmail.

  • Posts

    Google Announces Plans to Shut Down Google Affiliate Network

    J.J. Hirschle, head of the Google Affiliate Network, announced today that the company has decided to shut down Google Affiliate Network following a review of goals and outcomes of the program. While its certainly no Google Reader, this does seem to be part of an ongoing effort at Google to eliminate lines of business that aren’t creating significant value.

    We’re constantly evaluating our products to ensure that we’re focused on the services that will have the biggest impact for our advertisers and publishers.

    To that end, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire Google Affiliate Network and focus on other products that are driving great results for clients.

    No doubt competitors Commission Junction and LinkShare, who comprise the “big 3” for large advertisers along with GAN, were pleased to have Google off their turf. But this move does make me wonder whether Google saw meaningful revenue opportunities with performance-based affiliate programs (it sounds like not if you read between the lines of the announcement), and how much they are actually leaving behind for the hungry sales reps waiting in the wings. With many investors already sour on e-commerce I wonder what this means for other businesses relying on performance marketing to monetize.

    What Google product do you think is next on the chopping block?

  • Posts

    B2B Startups Cloudant & Clustrix Enter Y Combinator Index Top 10 (April 2013)

    Last month the first Y Combinator index ranked the entire portfolio by web traffic and Facebook monthly active users (where applicable). These two data points provided some relative ranking, but didn’t do much to bring enterprise companies to their expected positions in the list and overly favored companies with short term spikes in traffic rather than long term investments in building teams, earning inbound links and creating audiences on socia media channels.

    This new ranking factors indicators like Facebook likes, Twitter followers, web traffic, page rank, inbound links, number of employees and other data I am collecting through proprietary methods.

    You’ll now see companies like Clustrix (scale-out SQL databases) and Cloudant (distributed database as a service) in the top ten, along with big jumps from OwnLocal (publisher tools & monetization), MemSQL (another database company!), AeroFS (private file syncing and collaboration) and many more. The Winter 2013 companies have also been added.

    At a Glance: Top Companies by Batch (Not Exited)

    • Winter 2013 – Bitnami
    • Summer 2012 – 9GAG
    • Winter 2012 – Daily Muse
    • Summer 2011 – Codecademy
    • Winter 2011 – HelloFax
    • Summer 2010 – Hipmunk
    • Winter 2010 – Optimizely
    • Summer 2009 – Olark (this batch has 4 companies in the top 20)
    • Winter 2009 – Airbnb
    • Summer 2008 – Cloudant
    • Summer 2007 – Dropbox
    • Winter 2007 – Weebly
    • Summer 2006 – Scribd
    • Winter 2006 – Clustrix
    • Summer 2005 – ClickFacts

    If you feel a company is incorrectly ranked on this list please email me or let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts. My email is morrilldanielle (at) gmail.

  • Posts

    Here’s What the New Facebook Profile Design Looks Like

    Over the past few days friends have been remarking that they’ve seen various pieces of Facebook’s new design rollout, including various shades of blue for the top bar. I had yet to see anything resembling the new design they hinted at earlier this month until today. I opened up my profile page and there it was, the new layout for profiles with a little tour to help me check it out. My overall reaction is that it is pretty and feels like a subtle change after a few minutes using it. I like that my about page is a bit more interesting and that pictures are bigger. It feels glossier like a magazine.

    I snapped some screenshots, since I’m not sure what my profile page will look like for others:

  • Posts,  Startup Index,  Startups

    Investor Index: Discover the Most Popular VC & Angel Blogs

    Looking for the music? I’m trying something new and have embedded the entire Darwin Deez album! Scroll to the bottom of this post to hit play, because music makes reading spreadsheet a lot more fun.

    Update: This post may have been more timely than I realized. I just noticed that David Hornik’s most recent post from early March talked about marking 10 years as a VC blogger. He says it best in his post:

    I had no idea ten years ago that VentureBlog would prove a catalyst for a whole industry of bloggers. But I am thrilled that it has. Not only has blogging provided us venture capitalists with the opportunity to demystify an enigmatic industry. But, more importantly, it has given entrepreneurs an invaluable resource to assist them in the incredibly challenging task of company creation. With any luck VentureBlog and the many VC blogs that followed will continue to flourish for years to come.

    Long before I ever imagined starting my company, I began reading a handful of investor blogs to follow along with what was happening in the startup world. When I learned about tech startups in 2006 I found it amazing to me that someone in their 20s could raise millions of dollars to build something the world had never seen before, and I wanted to understand how that worked and who made it possible. The first investor blogs I ever read and subscribed to, in 2006 were Josh Kopelman, Mike Speiser and Paul Graham. The landscape has changed since then, with hundreds of investors now sharing their thoughts on their blogs.

    By the Numbers

    • 68 investor blogs have been updated since the beginning of 2013
    • 17 investor blogs rank above the global Alexa 100,000
    • According to Alexa the 5 most widely read investor blogs are Y Combinator, Dharmesh Shah, Paul Graham, Fred Wilson and Mark Suster.
    • 2 female VCs are blogging (as of publishing): Christine Herron and Rachel Strate (not updated since 2009).

    Who have I missed? Which investors blog posts from the past are so good they should be read over and over again? Let me know in the comments so I can keep this updated.

  • Posts,  Startup Index,  Startups

    Traction Tracker: 84 Y Combinator Companies With Significant Traffic Growth

    What’s this music thing? I pair music with my posts, as I find it makes digesting spreadsheets a bit more fun. Enjoy!

    I’ve been compiling stats about the Y Combinator, 500 Startups and Andreessen Horowitz portfolio companies to produce The Startup Index. Website traffic tells only part of a company’s story, but how it changes over time can reveal who is gaining momentum and attention online. Focusing on Alexa ranking deltas, rather than absolute numbers, also shines a light on enterprise, hardware and developer focused startups who would normally get pushed down low on any traffic-based ranking system.

    Imagine “Hot Companies” Lists Driven By Data, Not PR

    Have you ever wondered how those “Top X of Y” posts are generated? Occasionally journalists will put out a request to PR people for companies that fit with a roundup post they’re working on. The PR firm will send over some logos and blurbs for a few companies that fit, and boom – you have 3-for-1 placement. But what if we used data to compile our own “Hot Startups to Watch” article by the numbers?

    • 75% (84 of the 112) YC companies in the Alexa 250,000 grew their traffic since March
    • Companies with traffic growth had a median delta of +4,130 positions, average delta of +11,121 positions.
    • 35% (29 of the 84) of companies with traffic growth outperformed the average delta.
    • 5% (4 of the 84) of companies with traffic growth are also members of the Alexa 500

    Scroll below the spreadsheet for a little analysis on the top 10 companies.

    Some have suggested it would be more useful to take the log of the March rank and compare it to the log of the April rank, to account for the fact that it is more difficult to go from the 10,000 position to the 1,000 position than from the 100,000 to 10,000 position in the Alexa global rank. I have created that data set as well, and the results are:

    What would you do with this data? Let us know in the comments.

    Quick Notes on the Top 10

    You might wonder why successful companies like Weebly, Scribd, Airbnb, and Disqus are at the bottom of the list. Being listed at all means the company has grown its traffic in the last month, and made it into the prestigious top quarter million websites in the world. Ranking by delta calls attention to companies with the most upward momentum in their website traffic, relative to the other properties on the Internet. Moving from the 122 to 121st more popular website globally, as Dropbox did this month, is a big deal and could indicate an increase of hundreds of thousands of visitors.

    Snipshot – I was excited to see a Winter 2006 company in the #1 spot. Some research reveals the site went up for auction on Flippa recently for $10,000 and some commenters mentioned they found the auction because Mark Zuckerbeg liked it (I’m assuming on Facebook). That might account for the traffic spike.

    Get Going – Get Going is a YC company from last summer who launched their travel service a few weeks ago to let people get crazy good deals if they’re willing to let the service pick their destination. This traffic is most result of the classic “TechCrunch spike”, and it will interesting to see where things settle in a month.

    AeroFS – It’s great to see a B2B company at #3 on the list, and AeroFS is helping large groups collaborate in the cloud of sensitive files. This is a classic big company problem of needing to keep confidential stuff inside the firewall, and exactly the kind of service to adopt if IT refuses to let you use Google Docs. Just last week they announced they’re out of beta on the company blog, and this feels like one of those “boring” companies that just chugs along in relative quiet and then is suddenly HUGE.

    Ark – I couldn’t find any recent press or other activity to explain the increase in traffic, but according to Alexa ~50% of their traffic is going to livedash.ark.com, a service that let’s you search for anything said on national TV.

    Custora – The customer engagement and retention company announced they’ve landed a LivingSocial as a customer earlier this month, and they’ve also been actively updating their company blog with helpful content for customers.

    AnyPerkAnnounced a $1.4M round of funding from Digital Garage and others to expand their employee perk management services, and experienced a nice TechCrunch traffic bump. The website was also redesigned recently.

    Firebase – James Tamplin’s company continues on a tear with the announcement that the app infrastructure service is now available to all developers.

    PagerDuty – The company announced a $10.5 Million round from Andreessen Horowitz in January and have grown to 24 employees.

    YouGotListings – The landlord management tool (I need this!) appears to be chugging along on minimal people and cash, with no other funding announced other than their Y Combinator / StartFund investment. I couldn’t find any recent news events, so I’d imagine most of the traffic bump comes from more active usage. They also mentioned their were revamping some features in February on the company blog.

    Verbling – They launched Google Hangout powered language learning classes back in December and it looks like it’s paying off. They’ve got right now and a thriving multi-lingual following on Twitter.

    Methodology Notes

    Companies that have exited are not included. W13 companies are excluded from this analysis, and will debut in the April Y Combinator index later this month. I have limited the list to companies in the top 250,000 websites globally according to Alexa.

    Many very successful YC companies who would be considered “stable” aren’t going to show up here if their traffic rank stayed the same or dropped a few positions over the past month. That doesn’t mean they’re not doing well, and in fact they’re likely growing as they convert more and more of their returning visitors into paying customers. The goal of this list is to identify the movers and the shakers, the up-and-comers, and the under appreciated growth of the early stage. You can check out the March 2013 Y Combinator Index for a ranked list of the entire portfolio as of March 20, 2013.

    There are 94 other companies who also climbed the Alexa ranking in this period, but are not yet in the top 250,000 websites and I look forward to doing more analysis of these companies in a separate post.

  • Startup Index,  Startups

    Zombie VC Post – The Bug Report

    What’s this? I usually pick a song I feel goes with the post and expresses my mood writing it. Enjoy, I hope it will enhance your reading experience.

    I’d like to address some bugs from Yesterday’s Zombie VCs post, which provided a list of investors who were inactive in Series A deals in the past 6 months according to Crunchbase, a self-reported database of deals updated by startups and their investors as follow-up to a post about helping founders find active investors during the Series A crunch and avoiding taking meetings that are a waste of time.

    I would like to express my appreciation to O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, MMC Ventures, Lightbank, Kepha Partners, Paladin Capital Group, Mercury Fund, Neu Venture Capital, Shasta Ventures, Genesis Partners, Magma Venture Partners, Kima Ventures, Greylock Ventures Israel, Softbank Capital, Carmel Ventures and Emergence Capital for reaching out to provide data and help me confirm they are currently actively doing Series A deals in recent months. Big thank you also goes to Shira Abel, who has been reaching out to Israeli VCs to get them updated and on the active list.

    This index can be improved, but I will not stop publishing it monthly and even with flaws it helps entrepreneurs focus their efforts on the most active firms.

    The Data Is Crap

    I used data from Crunchbase, which is much less accurate than I thought it would be. I did expect some errors, but mistakenly thought the 6 month window was big enough to limit that and didn’t take the time to validate the list or contact the companies on it. I also limited the list to funds who participated in Series A deals in the past, but it turns out many of those were one-off deals from growth capital firms or follow-on from funds who primarily focus on seed. I should have taken more time to research this data, cross check with other sources, and at the very least reach out to some very obviously active firms like Shasta to find out more info before publishing.

    I am still a huge advocate for Crunchbase, which I think is a treasure in the startup community, and encourage investors to update their profiles. I have also submitted a feature request to them to allow investors to update activity without revealing the companies, so we’ll see how that goes. Founders aren’t reading paid subscription data services or VC insider newsletters and I don’t think it is realistic to expect them to start.

    The Methodology Needs Work

    While I believe this first attempt raised some transparency around investor activity, a mea culpa is definitely necessary where methodology is concerned and I wholeheartedly agree with Fred Destin’s suggestions in ZOMBIE VCS TAKE II – HOW TO SPOT AN ACTIVE FIRM which jives well with in-depth methodology feedback I’ve received privately as well. I have included a list of corrections in the original post, and also updated active investors list for March 2013 as needed. Going forward I look forward to offering an updated active investors list, and I will be leveraging additional data sources that have been offered (thank you) and contacting companies.

    Listing Inactive Investors is of Little Value to Founders

    Creating a list of inactive investors isn’t very constructive, and is of little practical value of founders. What founders want to know is which investors are active, they care much less about who is inactive. I have been working through many ideas around the best ways to track fund performance which are still specific and transparent but are also credible and helpful, and I welcome your input in the comments, via email and on Twitter to help me improve this.

    There were several smaller bugs as well, including:

    • The title also turned out to be much more sensational than I would have expected, playing off of my previous “Zombie Startups” post
    • The disclaimers about data quality were not clear enough to many readers
    • The use of the “total deal participation size” number to sort the list was useless (and has since been removed, it is now alphabetical)

    As a blogger I believe in offering insight based on experience, a data-driven perspective wherever possible, and actionable details that are useful for founders (like a list of investors who are actively doing deals) whenever possible.

    I would also like to acknowledge, though I cannot name, dozens of people who have sent me tips and other info I am following up on, hopped on calls with me to explain their perspective and ideas for how to make this better and more useful for entrepreneurs and the ecosystem as a whole, opened up APIs and other data sources for additional research, and expressed their appreciation and shared personal stories. They bring a huge range of experience across the entire startup community including founders, associates, VCs with names you’d recognize, long admired heroes of venture and tech, quiet “guy behind the guy” types and everything else in between. I’m listening and working to bring their feedback into the content I create in the future. I know I will not win over people who don’t want this information made public, and quite honestly I just don’t care. This one’s for all the founders in the struggle.

    Thanks to Fred Wilson for the inspiration on how to craft this post.

  • Posts

    Zombie VCs

    This post uses publicly available data on Crunchbase and has elicited a strong response from the tech community in general. I am making corrections as I receive them and you can scroll to the bottom of the post to see a full list of my changes. The list has been updated to read in alphabetical order, and I have posted a follow up bug report on the data and methodology.

    I am going to say what most investors and many savvy entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley know but aren’t saying: just as there are zombie startups, there are zombie VCs out there and they walk among us. These are partners at venture firms who are 3-5 years into investing their fund, don’t have very strong results so far, and are struggling to raise new funds. These investors are not doing new deals, opting instead to use their remaining capital to double-down in follow on rounds with their existing portfolio, but in some cases they’re taking meetings anyway.

    How to Spot a Zombie VC When Raising Your Series A

    In the same way at a VC will often send you to an associate because they’re “too nice” to say no, zombies will meet with you and make you feel like you’re making progress on the fundraising path, but can ultimately wind up being a huge waste of time. Since you don’t have your own associate to pass them off on, you need to watch for the warning signs yourself and ruthlessly protect your precious time. You’re here to raise money and get back to work, not make friends.

    • They haven’t made any series A investments in the past 6 months
    • They haven’t invested outside their existing portfolio in the past 3 months
    • They haven’t made ANY investment in the past 3 months (after a more regular pace in the past)
    • They tell you they’re re-focusing on later stage deals, or raising a new fund

    Once you have identified that you may be meeting with a zombie it can be frustrating, but what you need to understand is that just like Bruce Willis in the 6th Sense zombies usually don’t realize they’re dead. Politely complete the meeting and update your spreadsheet accordingly when you get home. If they contact you to set up another meeting or request that you send over your deck it is appropriate to ask them how serious they are about doing new deals before you provide more information (decks get emailed around) or offer up more of your time.

    If the investor seems angry with you for asking about their (lack of) recent Series A this is a red flag.

    You have every right to do your due diligence on them. On to the next one.

    Doing the Diligence

    In my previous post, I listed the most active Series A investors, and my advice to entrepreneurs was to start by pitching investors you know are actually doing Series A.

    This is a list of funds who may be doing deals, have participated in Series A in the past, but have not publicly done a Series A in 6 months or more. The data is sourced from Crunchbase and includes investors who have previously participated in a Series A investment which was publicly announced, but not in the past 6 months. It includes active institutional investors as far back as January 1, 2012 who have participating in lifetime total deals of $20,000,000 or more (to reduce inclusion of angel funds). The list is sorted by total deal participation size, to show the most well-known investors first. Some of these investors are late stage in general, so they’re probably not great to pitch for your first round of venture funding but that doesn’t mean they’re not doing well overall.

    Investors, have you been included in this list in error? Please let me know about a Series A deal you’ve done in the past 6 months (I don’t need the details, just your word) so I can get you off this list and onto the active Series A investors list. My email is morrilldanielle (at) gmail.com

    Editor’s Notes: Updated to clarify that the Crunchbase data set only includes publicly announced investments.

    I’m updating the list as I learn more from the community, and many investors below have been moved to the active Series A investor list.

    I would like to express my appreciation to O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, MMC Ventures, Lightbank, Kepha Partners, Paladin Capital Group, Mercury Fund, Neu Venture Capital, Shasta Ventures, Genesis Partners, Magma Venture Partners, Kima Ventures, Greylock Ventures Israel, Softbank Capital, Carmel Ventures and Emergence Capital Partners for reaching out to provide data and help me confirm they are currently actively doing Series A deals in recent months. I have also removed late stage investors who do not typically do Series A deals, seed funds that do not do Series A, and biotech focused investors as I identify them.

    Big thank you also goes to Shira Abel, who has been reaching out to Israeli VCs to get them updated and on the active list.