Becoming Superhuman (with email, at least)

In the original Matrix movie, one of the most striking scenes to my younger self was the scene where a simple upload of combat training turned Neo from a n00b to a bad-ass warrior, going toe to toe with Lawrence Fishburne in a kung fu dojo.  As an optimist, I dream of the instant step-change in personal capability.

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While technology can’t turn anyone into a kung fu master via uploading a program directly to your brain, that was the feeling I got when I got on-boarded to Superhuman a few months ago.  It was a step-change in my ability to process my email.

You can find endless tweets about Superhuman – they fall neatly into two categories:

  1. New users tweeting about how Superhuman has blown their mind and/or transformed their productivity
  2. People who want to be users begging for access. 🙂

I couldn’t find any blog posts about what it’s like to use Superhuman, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts.  Consider this a love letter to a product that’s already made me much more productive.

Speed

Holy s**tballs, Superhuman is FAST.  Like crazy-fast.  Instant responsiveness fast.  The website talks about the 100ms threshold “where interactions feel instantaneous”… and yeah.

I even went through old email, pressing the “E” key (to archive) as fast as I could to see if Superhuman could keep up with it, and yeah… Superhuman can respond faster than I could repeatedly press the same key.  There is nothing – anywhere in the Superhuman interface – where a user has to wait.  And as everyone knows,

⏱ == 💰💰💰

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Command-K (aka Quicksilver for email)

About ten years ago I was a rabid user of Quicksilver on the Mac – where in a simple interface you could do anything – launch apps, manipulate files, trigger emails… anything.  It was super-powerful.

In Superhuman, hitting “Command-K” triggers the “Superhuman Command” menu – which gives you ultimate power over your email.  No matter what you want to do – you can do it by triggering the Superhuman Command.

This leads me to another reason why Superhuman is so fast, and why Command-K helps make it so powerful…

Keyboard shortcuts

You might think – “hey, Gmail already has keyboard shortcuts” or “it’s hard to remember all those shortcuts” or maybe even “huh?”.

If you want to process email quickly, one of the fastest ways you can do that is with keyboard shortcuts.  Your fingers are already over the keys.  Moving them to click/drag/double-click on your trackpad or mouse means moving your hand, making that movement, and then moving your hand back.  It might not seem that slow, but if you have to do it constantly that time adds up… especially when you compare it to the fractions of a second it takes to do the same thing on a keyboard.

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Whatever you do in Superhuman, the interface gently reminds you of the keyboard shortcut needed to do that same thing.  If you move your mouse over the compose email button, it reminds you that you just have to type “C” to do the same thing.

compose.png

Do you want to delete your draft?  It’s “Command-Shift-period”

Discard.png

Want to cc or bcc someone?  There’s a shortcut for that:

CCBCC.png

 

The amazing thing about how Superhuman helps here is that these pointers are only shown to users who aren’t using those shortcuts already.  If you’re a power user, Superhuman just stays out of your way.

Until you’ve used keyboard shortcuts as the core of your email experience, you have no idea how much faster you can get through email.

Best-of extensions

There is frankly a pretty big universe of Gmail extensions to give Gmail users powers that Gmail has never built.  Specifically, features like:

  • Send later (at a time you want)
  • Remind me (at a specific time if someone hasn’t responded to your email… or no matter what)
  • Read receipts – who’s opened your message
  • Undo send
  • Rapportive-style sidebar (Superhuman’s founders also created Rapportive)

ALL of these are BUILT-IN to Superhuman!

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Clean and beautiful

Gmail was revolutionary back in 2004, but even with the recent changes to the interface, it’s still cluttered.

Superhuman is simple, clean, and beautiful.  Just… beautiful.

And if/when you get to Inbox Zero, you also get a beautiful reward — a screen like this: (details of my particular inbox setup are blocked out)

Superhuman.png

Hold on… it can’t be THAT amazing…

Ah, but it is.  Seriously.  If you spend a substantial amount of time in email the time and effort Superhuman saves you will be worth every penny you spend on it.

That said, Superhuman is still early.  There’s an iPhone app, but no Android app.  There are some promising calendar features… but they’re not (yet) as powerful as they eventually will be.  I know many heavy email users who depend a lot on separating communication (email) from tasks, so I think there’s opportunity in Superhuman helping those users move easily between email and a tasklist.  For new users to Superhuman I’d love to have a Superhuman Command for “email bankruptcy” where it archives literally everything in your inbox so a person can start from scratch.  And there are still some fairly rare cases where Superhuman sends you to Gmail to do particular things, like adjust filter settings.

Despite all that, you can think of my problems as those of absence.  What’s been built in Superhuman is amazing… just not everything has been built yet. 🙂

Final thoughts

I wrote this because I’ve become a massive fan of Superhuman, and I wanted to share why.  You may have seen the tweets of new users who are blown away by it, but I wanted to share at least my experience as to why it’s been so meaningful to my productivity.

The wait list for Superhuman is… long.  Tens of thousands of people long.  That said, the onboarding process is white-glove: Superhuman has a team who works with each new user, helping set up Superhuman to match how each person works.

If you live in email, I strongly recommend that you sign up to (eventually) get access.

 

TweetOrder – I built a thing

If you’re a frequent Twitter consumer (as I am), you might be familiar with the frustrations of millions of users that want to see their Twitter stream in chronological order, not the “algorithmically-best-based-on-what-Twitter-thinks-you’ll-engage-with-order”.  When news is breaking (or during live sports) it’s… jarring to see Tweets from early in the day mixed in with very recent tweets.

But…

A few months ago I saw a tweet from Andy Baio (@waxpancake on Twitter) that showed how to use Twitter’s native search functions to get to a Tweetstream that showed Tweets in chronological order.  And not only did it do that, but it also removed replies, ads, etc.  You only saw tweets from people you followed, and in chronological order.

Because Twitter is Twitter, there’s a different URL scheme to access what Andy shared, depending on if you’re on a desktop or mobile browser.  Because… Twitter.  <sigh>  Which sucked because there’s no way I was going to bookmark two obscure URLs (and absolutely no way I was going to remember them offhand).

So I built TweetOrder…

🔥💥🌟 Check out https://tweetorder.com to get your Twitter feed in chronological order! 🌟💥🔥

As a fun bonus, if you go to https://tweetorder.com when you’re logged out (or in an incognito window) you see what appears to be the most recent tweets across *all* Twitter users.  This is a really interesting window into the diversity of Twitter worldwide.  Finally, if you’ve read this far, also check out the TweetOrder about page, and follow TweetOrder on Twitter.  Thanks again to Andy Baio for the inspiration!

Make a difference in government: a 3-step guide for blue state tech workers

money-talks

As a blue state tech worker (CA, in my case) it seems that I don’t have a lot of ways to affect politics. My Senators, representative, and local politicians already hold the same values and believe in the same policies I do. But I want to make a difference for Americans across the country, especially those that are in danger of a Trump administration. For others in my situation, here is a simple, 3-step guide to make a difference in our country:

Step 1 — Ask if your employer offers a gift match on charitable donations! It’s not unusual for top technology employers to match thousands of dollars a year.

Step 2 — Create an account on CharityNavigator. It’s a leading site to help make good decisions on how to spend charitable donations. It rates charities on a 0 to 4-star scale, where 4-star charities are “Exceptional”, exceeding industry standards and outperforming most charities in its cause, and 3-star charities are “Good”, exceeding/meeting industry standards and performing as good or better than charities in its cause. (Donating through CharityNavigator then makes it very easy to do your tax paperwork!)

Step 3 — Give to top-rated non-profits that correspond to the causes you care about, and take advantage of your employer’s gift match! Make an impact with dollars. A $1000 donation with an employer gift match gives $2000 to the charity, but could only cost you ~$700 with your tax deduction. Check these causes and charities out… and donate:

Environment

Civil Rights

Women’s Health

Other


Originally published at per aspera ad astra.

President Trump

It’s official: Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

I’m deeply saddened, and am finding it hard to deal with this news. It shows just how insulated we’ve become as a country. We’ve always been divided (Hamilton reminded me of this), but the effects of social media has made this feel worse. Because you only tend to hear the news you want from the people that believe the same way you do, it hits harder when you realize how many people are on the other side.

I deeply worry about the country under President Trump. Less because of what he believes in policy-wise, far more because of how his election could embolden those who try to drive us apart. If you’re not a white, straight, Christian male, the next four years just became a lot scarier. People I know are literally scared for their personal safety. The kind of visceral hate, racism, anti-Semitism, and sexism that we saw in the primary and general elections could become far more powerful and dangerous to individual American’s lives when Trump leads the government and the party that controls all branches of government. Incidents of violence toward Muslims, Jews, LGBTs, and more have had an uptick during Trump’s run because his campaign implicitly (explicitly?) encouraged that type of behavior. I pray that this trend will stop and reverse, but I worry it will only get worse.

This was lost in the coverage last night, but for the second time in five presidential elections, the Presidential candidate who won more votes lost the Electoral College. I don’t think the Electoral College will ever go away, but I’m frustrated by this frequency.

Practically, there will be two years of a unified Republican government (Presidency, Senate, House, Supreme Court) before voters have their say again to re-elect Congress. Maybe things will change then, maybe not. I certainly hope so, but given built-in advantages the Republicans have with congressional districting, I’m skeptical. I worry that America’s debt will skyrocket from poorly-planned tax cuts. I worry that rights (like the right to marry who you want, whether you’re straight or gay) will be rolled back and cause chaos across the country. I worry about violence toward anyone that’s not a straight, white, Christian male.

I worry about the message that this has sent to women, especially young women. When the most qualified Presidential candidate in history (Senator, SecState, etc) is beaten by the least qualified Presidential candidate in history (no elected history, no military service), and the most qualified candidate is a woman? That message from voters is a punch to the gut to millions of women who have had the same thing happen to them.

But I believe in America, and as a country I believe we can survive four years of President Trump. The cost of survival may be high, and it the burden of that cost will be unequal. But in 2020 he’ll have to face voters; this time with four years of actually being President. Will he be able to achieve what he’s promised, or will he have been outed as a carnival huckster? That will be an interesting election.

I keep coming back to the Zen Master story from Charlie Wilson’s War:

https://www.youtube.com/embed/B2L1-TgfKb4

“We’ll see”


Originally published at per aspera ad astra.

$20 Billion — and a relaunch of Seed-DB


Just 11 years after Y Combinator funded the first handful of companies in the first seed accelerator, over $20 billion has been raised by accelerator graduates. For those keeping track at home, this is just 16 months after accelerator graduates passed the $10 billion raised milestone.

Over $5 billion in exits have already been achieved by accelerator graduates. Companies that have yet to exit are collectively valued at over $80 billion.

Early stage startups continue to be a power-law phenomenon. Despite funding over 6,000 companies in nearly 200 programs around the world, 75% of the investment dollars have gone into accelerator graduates of just four programs: Y Combinator, Techstars, 500 startups, and Angelpad.

That said, this stat isn’t as dramatic as it might appear. Those four programs have collectively funded over 40% of the 6,000+ graduates. Essentially, they’re prominent because they figured out ways to scale effectively, either through bigger class sizes or more frequent programs. Between these programs’ alumni and mentor networks, and reputational effects, they’re able to consistently find, fund, and mentor a higher-achieving tier of startups.

And while you obviously don’t have to go through an accelerator to succeed; it helps. Pitchbook found that one-third of startups that raised a Series A round in 2015 went through an accelerator. But only about 1,200 companies per year went through an accelerator in 2013, 2014, and 2015, and there were far more than 3,600 companies started each of those years. So while companies that go through an accelerator are a small portion of early-stage startups (likely 10% or less), they are a much larger percentage of successful startups (33%).

Why Seed-DB?

One of the big reasons I created Seed-DB is because the world of accelerators is plagued by anecdata. It’s easy to remember the accelerators that helped the B2C companies that you may use today; it’s harder to know about accelerators behind the B2B hard-tech companies that don’t get a lot of press but are growing like crazy. I also believe there are some great accelerators (or at least accelerators that have found great companies) that don’t get the attention they deserve.

For example, did you know the Flashpoint program at Georgia Tech funded two companies that have both gone on to raise over $100million each? Did you know the third biggest exit of an accelerator company (for $350million) came from AngelPad?

Seed-DB exists to give entrepreneurs the data on which companies have been through which programs, in order to make more informed choices. To answer the questions: is an accelerator right for me? Which accelerator is right for me? And why?

Seed-DB — relaunch

Today also marks a re-launch of Seed-DB! While the user interface hasn’t changed substantially (I’m not a strong front-end developer), the data structures behind the scenes have changed substantially.

Charts & Tables

Tabular data is valuable, but charts bring data to life. Seed-DB now has a dedicated “Charts & Tables” page to showcase this information. There are four key charts:

  • Total number of accelerator companies over time, updated monthly

TotalCompanies

  • Total funding (in $) of accelerator companies over time, updated daily — now > $20 billion

TotalFunding

  • Number of funding rounds over time, updated daily

NumberOfRounds

  • Number of accelerator cohorts/batches over time, updated monthly

NumberCohorts

  • Log/Log chart of company total funding (for companies that have raised >$500k)

LogLogChart

You can see from these charts that there was a significant change in trajectory with more companies going through accelerators starting in 2011, which increased further in 2012. The chart of total funding has a significant trajectory change in 2014, which increased again in 2015.

The same page also has some of the most popular tables:

Focus on Cohorts

The biggest data structure change has been a pivot on accelerator cohorts or batches. Previously each accelerator was a flat list of companies they had funded, though Seed-DB did store the month they started with at the program. Now each accelerator shows the highlights of each individual cohort, and then you can drill down further to see individual companies in that cohort. (You can toggle back to the old view if you want, though.)

This is significantly faster for most users, but also shows a new layer of detail. It’s clear to see that one of the most successful YC companies to date (AirBnB) was in one of the smallest YC classes ever, in the middle of the financial crisis in Jan — Mar 2009.

Additionally, this cleans up the user experience for accelerators that run multiple programs in different cities or verticals. (Specifically, programs like Techstars, DreamIT Ventures, Startupbootcamp, Wayra, etc) Instead of each of these programs getting listed as separate accelerators, the various cohorts are all grouped together in one overall accelerator.

Sign Up for Updates

Interested in how accelerators progress over time? It’s been just 16 months for accelerator companies to raise $10 billion; would you like to know how quickly the next $5 or $10 billion is raised? You can now click Login, OAuth with Google or Facebook, and click one button to sign up for updates on when high-level milestones are reached. (Your email address won’t be shared, and updates will be infrequent.)

You can also sign up for the Seed-DB newsletter, which will have more analysis and long-form updates, and is sent even more infrequently.

Better on Mobile

While I won’t say Seed-DB is truly mobile optimized, the tables of data in Seed-DB can be used far more easily on mobile than they ever have before, and the new charts work great on mobile, too. (Thanks, d3.js!)

Patreon Campaign

Finally, I’ve kicked off a Patreon campaign to help support Seed-DB. If you find Seed-DB valuable for yourself or the startup community, please consider supporting the campaign! No funds will go to Jed; they will all be used to either pay monthly infrastructure costs, or go to contractors to help with data collection. In other words, any contributions only go to keeping Seed-DB running and improving data quality.

Personal Disclaimer: I did my first research into accelerators in the summer of 2009, and created Seed-DB in the summer of 2012. Two and a half years ago I started working for Techstars as a Product Manager. This post represents my personal views, and not those of Techstars. All data comes from Seed-DB alone.


Originally published at per aspera ad astra.

$10 Billion

Ten years after the seed accelerator model was pioneered, Seed-DB has now identified over $10 billion that has been invested in accelerator graduates. Over 200 seed accelerator programs around the world have funded nearly 5000 companies, and over 300 companies have already exited for a total of over $3.5billion. The total valuation of companies that have come through accelerators reaches in the tens of billions of dollars. If you don’t believe that accelerators are a relevant way for early-stage technology companies to get funding and started… you’re sadly mistaken.

How has this happened?

To quote Ernest Hemingway (via Chris Dixon’s great post): “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

The first accelerator, Y Combinator, only started ten years ago. Techstars’ first class was in 2007, DreamIT Ventures in 2008, AngelPad in 2010, and 500startups in 2011. Most of these only funded handfuls of companies to start. Those early starts have compounded to create a juggernaut of high-quality startups getting funding. And as mature growing companies are able to find plentiful later-stage capital in the current environment, large funding rounds are becoming commonplace. Here’s what’s happened over time:

Top accelerators are now brands themselves, and their stamp of acceptance and access to their networks is self-reinforcing. While $10billion in total funding is an impressive milestone, companies that have gone through accelerators comprise only a small portion of the total venture funded startup scene. There is a lot of space for their influence to grow.

Top tier programs

76% of all venture capital funding of seed accelerators go to graduates of just five accelerator programs: Y Combinator, Techstars, 500startups, Angelpad, and DreamIT Ventures. But there are three parts to this: quality, quantity, and longevity.

An accelerator needs to be of a sufficient quality in order to help their companies become investable. That accelerator needs to fund a relatively high number of startups in order to have a meaningful impact in aggregate. (Either by funding more per year, or steadily accumulating a portfolio over time.) The longer a program has been in operation the bigger their companies can grow.

This is not to say that new programs won’t break into this top tier… just that they need more time.

Funding — a Power Law in action

If you search for [venture capital] and [power law], you’ll see that venture capital is an industry known to follow a power law… and power laws encompass the phenomenons of the “long tail” and the Pareto principle (aka 80–20 rule). This holds true for the world of seed accelerators, too. The following is a chart of the funding that the 939 companies that have raised the most venture capital after going through an accelerator (so ~20% of all accelerated companies).

This is a pretty extreme power law; Dropbox has raised over $1billion in funding alone, but hundreds of companies have raised between $1million and $10million in funding. (And thousands have raised seed rounds of <$1million). Let’s see what happens when we check for a real power-law relationship by plotting both axes on log scales.

The result is a straight(-ish) line, which means venture funding of accelerator companies is a power law relationship. (The math to prove it is fairly complicated and outside the scope of this post.)

But… do accelerators accelerate?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Luckily there are some very smart researchers trying to quantify this. Ben Hallen, Chris Bingham, and Susan Cohen have done some great work in trying to answer this question. Essentially they’re trying to determine if companies that have gone through accelerators reach key milestones faster than companies that haven’t gone through accelerators.

They haven’t yet published their paper, so I’m not going to steal their thunder. But their work should put the analytical horsepower to confirm (and disprove) various theories on accelerators.

I want to note that Yael Hochberg is another researcher in this field to watch; she and Susan Cohen lead the Seed Accelerator Rankings project.

Data Disclaimer

All data on company funding comes from Crunchbase. Some companies don’t enter funding information in Crunchbase, and others don’t even have Crunchbase pages; in those cases the total funding would be even larger. Additionally, I know a number of accelerators have funded companies that aren’t yet listed on Seed-DB; I continually work with programs to help make sure data is accurate but inevitably the data for many companies will be missing.

Also, I pulled the data above earlier this week in order to write this post; it’s already out of date with the funding rounds raised this week. (Three Techstars companies announced over >$100million in funding within 48 hours this week, for example.)

Personal Disclaimer

I did my first research into accelerators in the summer of 2009, and created Seed-DB in the summer of 2012. One year ago I started working for Techstars as a Product Manager. This post represents my personal views, and not those of Techstars. All data comes from Seed-DB alone.

[Check out the discussion on Hacker News]

Going to California…

My wife and I have recently made a big decision. After over eleven years living in London, we’re moving back to the US… to the San Francisco/Bay Area of California!

Wait… what?!?

If we haven’t caught up with you in a while, my wife started working for Google about a year ago in London. A few months later, I left Google to join Techstars (but still based in London). We’ve both been really, really happy in our respective jobs, and the changes have opened up new opportunities for both of us. At Techstars my role has shifted, and I’m leading a product team building applications and tools to help our founders leverage the Techstars network and “do more faster.” And at Google, Annie has been kicking ass and been offered an opportunity to transfer within her team for an important role… but one based in California.

But why??

Frankly, it’s great for both of us professionally to make this move. But it’s not just that, it’s also to be closer to family. For any of our immediate (or even distant) family to visit us, it takes them 6–10 hours of flying and a substantial amount of cash for the transatlantic flight. As our daughter grows, we want her family not to be some abstract concept that she sees on the other side of a FaceTime, but people she knows and loves as she grows up. (We’ve also gotten to be rather jealous of our British friends whose families can help with babysitting far, far easier than ours can!)

There’s a myriad of reasons why we’re doing this, and it’s a bit different for Annie and me. (They range from more sensible school options to being better able to buy a home for ourselves to seeing our UK friends move to the countryside…) But we’ve considered them all, and a move to California is what’s best for us right now.

How are you feeling about this?

I’m very excited for the move, but I’m very sad and frankly a little anxious.

I’m excited for new opportunities (professionally and personally), excited to spend time with old friends that we haven’t spent much time with in years, and excited for new experiences in general.

I’m incredibly sad to be leaving our friends here in London and the UK. Annie and I have spent the majority of our adult lives in London, and we’re gutted that we’re going to have to say goodbye (at least for now) to our friends. That said, we’ve committed to ourselves to visit as frequently as we can. (Probably for Henley every year at least!) And we’ll certainly be back at some point to live in the UK again.

Finally, I’m anxious because there are a lot of things I’ve never had to deal with in the US… like health insurance! (Between the Navy and the NHS here in England I’ve been spoiled when it comes to healthcare.) Frankly, I think I’ll feel like an ex-pat in my own country for quite a while.

When is this happening?

We’re wheels up from the UK at some point in the last couple weeks of March… so less than six weeks away. (Yikes!)

Whoa… I think I need a drink

And I’d say I agree. In the selfish interests of seeing as many people before we go, we’re going to have a party on the afternoon of Saturday, March 7th. Get in touch if you’d like to know more details; we’d love to see you there! 🙂 (A Facebook invite will be going out shortly.)

Finally, I’ll just leave you with this brilliant (and relevant) song from a legendary band…