David Lee

Trying to bring something to the table.

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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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The Do’s and Don’t’s of Venture Investing

When I first started investing, I got a lot of advice. Most people had the same thoughts on what to look for - the “Do’s” of venture investing. None of these were surprising and remain the case today. Do:

  • work with great founders;
  • look for big markets;
  • yada yada

And many gave me advice about what not to do - the “Don’t’s.” Here are some the “Don’t’s” that I’ve heard along the way. Don’t:

  • invest in married founders;
  • invest in single founders (i.e., no second founder);
  • invest in non-technical founders;
  • invest in founders that you can’t drive to;
  • invest in a company where the person who came up with the idea is not the person who executes on the idea;
  • invest in music startups;
  • invest in hardware.

I learned the hard way that there are no “Don’t’s” in venture investing. If you take this advice literally and categorically, you can miss on the companies that really matter. These...

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More on Biz Dev Intros…

We frequently get asked for email introductions to business development partners. Inspired by Roy Bahat, I wrote a tweetstorm on some best practices. See below.

In general, you should assume that the business development partner has (1) very busy people and (2) most likely, little incentive to meet you (unless you are the Startup Du Jour that everyone wants to meet). If they have any decision-making authority or key influence, these people have their OKRs and are motivated to execute on those. Your idea may in fact be incredibly lucrative or “strategic” to that partner - but if that idea doesn’t resonate with that executive’s 3 top goals, you may not get much mindshare. (The previous two sentences apply mostly to big companies). That said, there are ways to capture their attention and maximize chances of meeting. Here’s the tweetstorm with some additional color:

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Good Listeners

“Entrepreneurs are often given two pieces of contradictory advice: persistence and flexibility. Have a vision and pursue it through years of people telling you you’re out of your mind. Or, be flexible: look at data, iterate, and change based on the signals you’re getting. There isn’t an actual algorithm. You have an investment thesis about why this project is likely to work and have some outside result, and usually that’s expressed in a set of statements and hypotheses, that if you’re right about, adds up like a logical proof and gives you the output you’re looking for. And you can have varying level of confidence in how these pieces are adding up and supporting your theses.” “The challenge is to follow them both, but know which advice is most appropriate for which situation. You must know how to maintain flexible persistence.” -Reid Hoffman

I spoke at Startup School a few weeks ago...

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