David Lee

Trying to bring something to the table.

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5 Things About Turning 50

I turned 50 recently. Some books, people, things that make me more excited about the next fifty years than the last:

  1. Wisdom at Work: The Making of a Modern Elder - Surprisingly inspirational read for anyone in their 40s or 50s in any fast-paced industry or environment. I say “surprisingly” because I’m usually turned off by corny titles (no offense).
  2. George Raveling - I remembered following him as the Iowa Mens hoops team back in the day coaching the poor man’s MJ, Roy Marble. He’s my Dad’s age and it’s pretty amazing to see how curious he remains.
  3. Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up - Jerry is a mentor and coach to me. Great personal read with some timeless life principles.
  4. The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Peak Performance - Anti-aging or “longevity” is not about living to 120 years old in a wheelchair - it’s about feeling like you’re 40 when you’re 60; 60...

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Today, Terra is launching its payment network. Specifically, it’s launching their mainnet 1.0 called Columbus, and this blockchain will be the foundation for its payment solution. Following this launch, in May, Terra will make its payment network available to e-commerce partners in Korea. Ultimately it will launch in the rest of Asia and the rest of the world. It’s a payment network that’s arguably better than many of the current solutions like credit cards, PayPal and others.

When the founders described Terra to me for the first time, they barely mentioned the technology and design behind the product. They talked first and foremost about user experience and go-to-market ideas. This mindset was highly unusual at the time. Most founders in their area talked about the technology and the breakthrough products - that would be built in 5 years. But Daniel, Do and Evan focused on how to make...

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“How I Built This” (SoulCycle) Notes January 6, 2019

  1. Both founders had babies when they started the company around 2005.
  2. Saw boutique fitness studios were a thing in LA (no changing of user behavior)
  3. Quote: “Had a need for a product” - not “I want to be an entrepreneur”
  4. Quote: “One of those things that would not leave me.” Always came back to this idea.
  5. Everyone thought this was the dumbest idea - including loved ones. (“Spinning is over.”)
  6. At the time, no fitness class charged per class. This was a novel business idea. Breakage was the business model.
  7. Husband said she would ruin her life - work 24/7. Neither founder cared - they were going to do this.
  8. Founders met through a cycling instructor, who was initially the third founder.
  9. Assumption: Exercise didn’t have to be torture.
  10. May be revisionist history but founders had such conviction that people would pay for this and this needed to exist.
  11. Found first location on CraigsList - 1,200...

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New York State of Mind, 6 Years Later

I visited NYC for the first time in a few years. I blogged about NYC 6 years ago.

  1. NYC still has the best pizza in the world. I ate two slices every day. Not kidding.
  2. NYC has the best bagels in the world, too. I was a mule and brought a dozen back for my family.
  3. Some of the best health companies in the world will come from NYC. If history is a guide, Flatiron Health will have 10x the impact of DoubleClick, Tumblr, Warby Parker, Buzzfeed and its other predecessors who paved the way for a generation of founders.
  4. The founder and startup ecosystem in crypto/blockchain/Bitcoin/Ethereum has a very different energy too. Very technical but somehow more self-aware than others. Maybe I’m projecting.
  5. But communities are a function of environment, and it’s hard not to be self-aware when there are world-class people in different industries and communities around you every day (e.g., fashion...

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5 Years

I put my life on hold for five years.

I had Stage IV lymphoma twenty 24 years ago when I was 24 years old. While the chemo and radiation were grueling, the emotional aftermath was even harder. My doctor told me that I was “touch and go” for a year after my treatment - the cancer would probably return. They said that if I made it to the “one year mark”, I was essentially cured. And if I made it to the “5 year mark”, I was definitely cured. The chances of the cancer returning after 5 years would be the same as anyone else - cancer patient or otherwise.

I was an emotional wreck. I used to be embarrassed to admit this. The sword of Damocles loomed large. I was so freaked out that the cancer would return. I stayed in school to avoid accountability and stress. I chose law school over business school because it had an extra year. I took it easy. I put my life on hold. And, eventually, I was...

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2015 Summer Reading List

The over/under on books actually read is 1.5.

  • Michael Jordan: The Life. This is the Steve Jobs book for anyone who likes or follows sports. Not clear what Jordan thinks of this book but the author got great access.

  • Thinking, Fast and Slow. The authoritative book on how to decide and the biases that affect the choices we make. This is thick in every sense of the word. It’s going slowly. Small font.

  • The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. I have no idea why I’m reading this. I was a big fan of The Elements of Style and I’ve heard good things about Stephen Pinker. This too is going slowly.

  • The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Dan Shih from Tilt recommended to this me. Usually I buy this type of book, never read it and place it prominently on my bookshelf so it looks like I’m a learned man. But this one is a surprisingly easy read.

  • ...

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Valuation vs. Ownership

When I speak to most founders and investors about financings, we focus on valuation. And when we think of valuation, the other side of the coin is dilution. For any fixed invested amount, the higher the valuation, the lower the dilution. Investors and founders can get fixated on this tradeoff of valuation vs. dilution.

A better way to think about this tradeoff is ownership vs. value add. Obviously valuation and ownership have their own relationship - they’re basically the same thing or two sides of the same coing (for any fixed investment, the higher the valuation, the lower the ownership). But if you shift the framework slightly and view the exchange or tradeoff as “ownership” vs. “value add”, then that can dramatically shift the conversation between the founder and future investors. Instead of focusing on the end result, (i.e., valuation/dilution), it’s better to ask questions like...

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Fundraising Advice - A Fortune Cookie Message

YCombinator had its Demo Day this week. There were 100+ startups with an unprecedented breadth. I particularly liked the health informatics/tech-in-bio startups, an area I’ve talked about before.

And with every Demo Day, we at SV Angel and many other investors try to meet and evaluate many of the startups. We try to give advice and help, and one topic we discuss is fundraising.

Advice on fundraising is hard to generalize. For some startups and founders, raising more money is the right thing to do; for others, raising less can be the right thing. It’s all fact-specific and situational. So when you try to give advice that applies to all startups, it starts to sound like a fortune cookie message.

Startup Jackson has the crispest recent advice I’ve seen recently on this topic. Here’s an email I wrote to a startup we funded in 2013 when it was raising its seed round. The founder wanted...

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Mindfulness, by Joe Flacco

I don’t know if Joe Flacco meditates but this mindset is a great illustration of the benefits of mindfulness.

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“Everybody’s different,” [Joe Flacco] said after the game, when I wondered why he’s so good when the stakes are so high. “I wish it was as easy as not caring, not giving a crap. But it’s just not that easy to figure out. In this game, Elvis Dumervil came up to me and said, ‘I was trying to talk to you during the game, but you were in this zone.’ I told him, ‘My mentality is a little different than yours as a defensive end. I mean, you’re going out there and you’re playing football, you’re in the trenches, you’re battling, you’re getting after it. I’m playing quarterback. It’s a lot different.’ I gotta be able to react to things and think, and not let my emotions get the best of me. My personality fits that. I get the most comfort before a game just sitting in here and saying...

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Ten Things I Think I Think - 2014

With a hat tip to Peter King, whose format I’ve used before:

1. I think 2014 was a great year for Bitcoin

No major security failures. No systemic loss of confidence, i.e., price dropping to single digits.

Increased merchant adoption:

Healthy regulatory scrutiny:


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