Opinion

Paul Smalera

Video Transcript: Fred Wilson on Tech Tonic Interface

Apr 18, 2013 19:54 UTC

Below is an unedited transcript of the video interview I conducted with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures:

PAUL SMALERA, Technology Editor Reuters.com: Today I had a great chat with Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. Check it out.

Let’s start with Bitcoin. It’s captured the imagination of tech blogs, there’s been a big price spike, dozens of posts all over the internet. And your own blog is full of savvy readers; I was reading through the comments on it. One of them said, ‘I haven’t even followed Bitcoin because I don’t really understand it quite frankly.’ Can we start there? Can you just tell us from your point of view what Bitcoin is?

FRED WILSON, Union Square Ventures: Bitcoin is a digital currency.  It’s a currency like the dollar or the euro or the yen. But it’s different in a couple of important ways. One is that it’s not based on faith in a commodity like gold or in a government like the US government. It’s based on faith in a mathematic formula. What underlies Bitcoin is math really and there’s a finite amount of Bitcoin that could be created; 21 million Bitcoin in total. We haven’t created all the Bitcoin yet because Bitcoin gets mined like gold would get mined.

Mined in like a computer has to crunch through a program?

To make it simple, computers are searching for matches of block chains and it takes a lot of processing power to do it and when you get a match you own that Bitcoin. People mine Bitcoins and they either keep them, own Bitcoin, or they sell them, exchange them for dollars or yen or they conduct transactions with them.

Fred Wilson on Bitcoin, Airbnb and immigration

Apr 12, 2013 18:17 UTC

This week Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures sat down with me for a video interview (part of Reuters’ Tech Tonic: Interface series) to talk about a wide variety of topics: Bitcoin, wireless spectrum auctions, Airbnb, immigration, the New York City mayor’s race, even his wife Joanne (the Gotham Gal), and a few others. Why so many topics? Fred’s simply one of the most thoughtful technology investors working today, and peppering him with as many different questions as possible can help us learn how he thinks.

Fred often cites “pattern recognition” as the main job of a venture capitalist, and I think I got a pretty good sense of Fred’s pattern: he understands the mechanism behind a company or technology, and figures out whether his firm can help that company grow. In this interview, he’s an insightful and persuasive defender of the interests of the tech industry, because he very sincerely believes in its ability to do good for people.

Do you think Fred’s take on technology’s promise is accurate? Watch and share the interview and let me know in the comments.

In Amazon, Wall Street worships a disruptive god

Feb 8, 2013 21:12 UTC

Why does Amazon please Wall Street so much? The company treats shareholders with a disregard that borders on contempt. (CEO Jeff Bezos is “willing to be misunderstood” which means he really doesn’t care if investors understand the business, as we’ll see.) Yet when it announced that profits last quarter fell 45% year-over-year, the stock price saw a healthy bump. Meanwhile, many tech companies, like Apple, which had a high-profit, high-margin quarter, found their stocks punished. Perhaps this is a sign that Wall Street is finally embracing the idea that, for tech companies, growth comes first, even at the expense of profit.

If that’s what’s going on then the Street has started to adopt the ethos of the Valley, specifically of one its most prominent sages: Harvard Business School professor Clay Christensen. The godfather of disruptive innovation, Christensen is often quoted chapter and verse by technology company founders and venture capitalists alike. Christensen studies how established, high-flying technology companies like Amazon and Apple conduct business, to determine if they are ripe for attack from low-margin, startup competitors. His thinking can help shed light on why the market loves Amazon, which is, after all, a barely profitable conglomerate of loosely related businesses that is growing at a bonkers rate. But basically, his theories all comes down to profit margins, and how companies spend their money.

Amazon’s razor-thin margins — just 1.9% for all of 2012 — are, according to Christensen’s theories (and some other Amazon watchers), the company’s key weapon defense against disruptive competition. Not just in defending itself from whatever competitors exist today, but also from competitors that might exist tomorrow. Christensen writes in his seminal book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, that disruptive companies generally start at the low-end of the market, serving customers with cheap, low-margin products that established companies have neglected, in their endless quest to move upmarket, increase profit margins, and please investors.

Raiding the future of the Internet

Feb 17, 2012 18:31 UTC

Think right now about your home bookshelf. If yours looks like mine, it contains odds and ends, comic books you’ve saved for years, books mailed to you or bought on a street corner, your own collection of dog-eared titles, some old yearbooks. Now think about the privacy of your own home and the few legal ways in which that privacy can be violated: an emergency response, a crime, a public health crisis. Imagine if once a year you had to open your door to a copyright agent who could scan your library for content that you have not paid for, add up your violations, and send you a bill. Imagine if the agent came by once a week, or even once a day. Imagine that the agent found a picture of the nerdy kid from high school in your yearbook and explained that that kid copyrighted his likeness, so you’ll have to either pay up or destroy his high school photo.

This is the world that content companies want to create. Legislation they have proposed in the U.S. and around the world — SOPA, PIPA and ACTA — would open the Internet’s house to any agent.

Artists and big companies often warn us of the opposite of this problem — the idea that the Internet is a lawless space where content is pirated, stolen and shared recklessly, costing them billions of dollars in lost revenue and shrinking the incentives for artists to produce new works. After all, if they can’t be paid fairly for them, why bother?

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