Let’s Ban Noncompetes

Let’s say I come to you asking for a raise. “Sorry Francis, we’re tapped out for the year.” I could leave — if only I didn’t sign that noncompete.


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Noncompete agreements restrict a worker from starting or working for a competing company for a period of time. The Federal Trade Commission is considering banning them.

Here’s why this is absolutely the right policy…

Worker Leverage

If I can’t work at a competitor, that means I cannot work in the field in which I have experience. And if I move to another field I know nothing about, my wages will be much lower.

So rather than leave my employer, I’m going to stick it out, even if the pay isn’t great.

Innovation

California is the most innovative state in America, by far.

California also happens to be one of the few states in the country that doesn’t enforce noncompete agreements. Workers are free to leave a company and start a competitor.

Is California so innovative because it scoffs at noncompetes? I don’t know.

But it certainly doesn’t seem to be holding them back.

Benefits of Noncompetes are Dubious

The economist Tyler Cowen argues that banning noncompetes will lower wages. From his latest Bloomberg column:

Say you run a hedge fund. Many members of your trading team will have partial access to your firm’s trading secrets, and if they leave they can take those secrets with them. In the absence of noncompete agreements, firms would be more likely to “silo” information — becoming less efficient and less able to pay higher wages.

Cowen’s argument is purely theoretical. He offers no evidence that states or employers without noncompetes have lower wages than those with them.

Cowen also argues that without noncompetes, employers will have less incentive to train. After all, their employees could jump ship at any time.

But again, he offers no evidence that companies without noncompetes invest less in training.

My Experience with Noncompetes

I’ll admit it, I have an ax to grind here. In my first job out of college many years ago, I had to sign a noncompete.

I didn’t want to sign it. But I was fresh out of school with barely a dime and no work experience — what else could I do?

When I found out other people in the industry were making two or three times what we were, naturally I wanted out. But the noncompete stopped me from working in the field for a whole year.

Unable to work in the field I knew, I applied for jobs outside it. But with no experience, there were no takers.

So I lived off my savings for a year until the noncompete expired. And sure enough, I dramatically increased my pay just days after it ended.

Let’s Ban This Nonsense

Noncompetes offer workers a terrible choice. Would you prefer indentured servitude, or unemployment?

In the absence of powerful evidence of their benefits, noncompetes should be banned. I urge you to write your representatives and ask them to end this abusive practice.

Freedom matters.

What’s your view on noncompetes? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

There will be no blog on Monday for the holiday. See you Tuesday.

Have a great weekend everyone!

More on tech:

How Startups Change Lives

They Passed on Apple, Google and Facebook…Here’s Why

Entrepreneurial ADD: The Startup Killer

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How Startups Change Lives

Many founders work incredible hours. So what’s all this for…just to make someone like me money?

Hardly.


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I know startups can change lives because I’ve seen it happen.

My mom lives in a small town in Wisconsin. Getting around without a car is nearly impossible — but she can’t drive.

She was born blind in one eye, making depth perception a mess and driving a nonstarter. The basic things we take for granted — getting groceries, making a doctor’s appointment, or just grabbing coffee at Starbucks — are very difficult for her.

Or were…until Uber and Instacart!

When I was a kid, we often waited over an hour for a taxi home with our groceries. And we did that outside in frigid temperatures, lest we miss the car.

Now, neatly packed bags appear on Mom’s doorstep, like magic.

We stood in deep snow waiting for the bus if we wanted to go anywhere. I think I spent half my childhood saying “Where the heck is this thing?”

Now, an Uber glides up in minutes, taking Mom wherever she likes.

One of my companies got acquired today. It made me think that despite this financial win, we do this job for a lot more than money.

Whether you’re a founder, investor, or startup employee, we want to make something amazing! We want to make a nicer life for other people.

So the next time you’re staring at your computer at 3am, remember this: what you do matters. You’re creating the future, and it’s going to be awesome!

What motivates you? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

They Passed on Apple, Google and Facebook…Here’s Why

Entrepreneurial ADD: The Startup Killer

Have We Reached SaaS-turation?

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Puerto Rico’s Finest at La Casa

We filed into the dim, narrow space full of expectation. I didn’t even know what Puerto Rican food was — but I was about to find out.


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La Casa in Hoboken offers Puerto Rican classics in a cozy atmosphere. Each dish is deeply flavorful and cooked just right.

For starters, we ordered a papa relleno. It’s essentially mashed potatoes stuffed with meat and deep fried.

Just what the doctor ordered! And as delicious as it sounds.

Next, I ordered the camarones al ajillo — garlic shrimp — with yellow rice and black beans. I’ve had gambas al ajillo in Spain, but Puerto Rico’s take is richer and more mild.

Spain’s heavily fragrant, oily sauce is replaced by a creamy one with a more subtle flavor. Even after I finished the shrimp, I lapped up the sauce like a hungry dog!

Unlike many restaurants, the shrimp are properly cooked. No tough little stones at La Casa!

The fluffy rice perfectly complemented the black beans with their deep cumin flavor.

I normally don’t like chicken breast — too dry. But my friend John urged me to try his, and it was moist and juicy.

Overcooked food is a common problem at restaurants. But at La Casa, they do things right.

On our way out, I swung by the kitchen to thank the cooks. They smiled broadly and one gave me a fist-bump.

When people take pride in what they do like the cooks at La Casa, the results are worth writing home about.

La Casa is open every day and in addition to the fine dinner we had, I’m told they serve a delicious breakfast!

There can be a wait on weekend nights. Given the small number of tables, they don’t take reservations.

On weekends, your best shot at getting a table right away is to arrive at 8:30pm or later.

What’s your favorite Latin dish? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on food:

Korean Noodle Heaven at Food Gallery 32

The Best Mexican Food Is In…New Jersey?

NJ’s Best Apple Cider Donut

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They Passed on Apple, Google and Facebook…Here’s Why

“Kid, haven’t you heard of Friendster? Move on. It’s over!”

VC Jeremy Levine passing on Facebook, 2004 (speaking to Eduardo Saverin).

Ouch.


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Bessemer Venture Partners passed on Apple, Google, Facebook and countless other highly successful companies.

In what they’re calling an “anti-portfolio,” the venerable firm explained their reasons for turning each founder down. How they arrived at these decisions can teach us investors a great deal.

I noticed a few themes:

Valuation: Bessemer passed on Apple, Airbnb and Atlassian because the valuations were too high. All went on to become massive companies.

The very best startups tend to go for a premium price. Google’s Series A valuation was around $100 million – scandalous at the time.

If you know you have one of the hottest companies in Silicon Valley, why sell cheaply?

I expect valuations to be reasonable. But focusing too much on price can lead us to “value traps.”

These companies are cheap for a reason and never go anywhere.

Founders Too Young: David Cowan had incredible luck — his friend was renting her garage to Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

The two young comp sci students were working on a new search engine called Google.

The Bessemer partner was unimpressed with these student founders. And who needed another search engine?

“How can I get out of this house without going anywhere near your garage?”

David Cowan

What if Cowan had been willing to take just a 20 minute meeting with Sergey and Larry?

Too Much Competition: Bessemer passed on Facebook and Zoom partly due to competition.

There were already so many video conferencing tools. And haven’t you heard of Friendster?

What the Bessemer partners missed is that being first doesn’t mean you win. The best tool wins, and it’s often not the first.

General Hubris: Now, we come to one of venture capital’s worst scourges.

Sometimes VC’s are so overconfident they can’t imagine being wrong.

You see that in Levine’s treatment of Eduardo Saverin when he passed on Facebook. He knows everything and this “kid” is deluded.

You see it again in David Cowan’s rejection of eBay:

“Stamps? Coins? Comic books? You’ve GOT to be kidding. No-brainer pass.”

David Cowan

We investors must always remember that we do not know the future. The best we can do is take an educated guess.

We will be wrong most of the time. And we must never forget that.

So I try to keep an open mind. And even when I pass on a company, I try to be polite.

With all these misses, you’d think Bessemer is the worst venture firm in the world, right?

Wrong. It’s actually one of the best!

That’s the magic of our industry. We can be massively wrong almost all the time, and still be a huge success.

Bessemer was an early investor in LinkedIn, Twitch, Shopify and many other iconic companies. They may have missed Apple and Google, but they didn’t need them.

I applaud Bessemer’s candor in assessing its mistakes. That’s how we learn!

What mistakes do you see investors making? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

John Doerr’s Biggest Mistake

The Power Law (Part Two)

Entrepreneurial ADD: The Startup Killer

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Entrepreneurial ADD: The Startup Killer

Every time I get the monthly update, I’m confused. Did I really invest in this company?


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There’s a disease that will kill a startup faster than anything else. It’s called Entrepreneurial ADD.

This deadly condition involves a founder who gets distracted too easily. Rather than nailing one business model, he’s always running off in new directions.

Hot new trend? He’ll pivot the entire business to work on it.

New product showing signs of working? Trash it and build something even cooler!

Entrepreneurs have boundless enthusiasm and tons of ideas.

This can help them innovate and succeed. Or it can have them running around like chickens with their heads cut off, accomplishing nothing.

Take the example of my portfolio company. After seeing some early signs of success with one product, they pivoted to something completely different.

The founder continued to chase down every hot trend in tech. Meanwhile, revenue shrunk and cash evaporated.

Now, runway is minimal and the chances of raising more money are poor. In this environment, a cash burning company with declining revenue is not investable.

What if they had simply hammered away at their original, successful business? They might be break-even by now and raising from a position of strength, if at all.

Venture capitalist Ben Narasin notes that in decades of investing, he’s almost never seen a pivot work. How many companies pivot over and over and succeed?

Probably almost none.

Don’t abandon a winning business model for the shiny new toy! Double down on what works.

And if your model isn’t working, fix it! If a particular problem is important to you, don’t just abandon it at the first sign of difficulty.

Because guess what? The next business will be difficult too!

Do you struggle with Entrepreneurial ADD? Do some of your founders have it?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Have We Reached SaaS-turation?

Is 2023 the Best Time to Invest in Startups?

The Magic of Milestone-Based Funding

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Have We Reached SaaS-turation?

Like many investors, I love a good SaaS business. But have we flooded the market with so many startups that customers are about to rebel?


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I was amazed when I saw how many subscriptions this founder was paying for…just for himself! That leads us to an interesting thread by Molly Wood, Managing Director at venture firm LAUNCH and co-host of This Week in Startups:


But if we look more closely at Gergely’s example, we find something interesting. He’s actually happy paying for all these subscriptions!

Automating so many tasks with SaaS may be why Gergely can keep this a 1 person business. Otherwise, it might be a 20 person business with way higher costs.

And while any business may look to cut subscriptions when times are tough, Gergely notes these subs are one of his smallest expenses. For him and many other CEO’s, cutting them may do more harm than good.

I agree with Molly that tech startups can be over-SaaSed. Many startups look to other startups as their first customers.

After all, startups are early adopters and can make a quick decision. That makes them an ideal first market for a SaaS product.

But in the economy as a whole, I think we’re actually dramatically unde†rusing technology.

Take SailPlan, an amazing SaaS company that tracks emissions from ships.

Competitors just provide a rough estimate after the fact. SailPlan tracks emissions in real time and can even give you suggestions of how to lower them.

And of course, lowering those emissions means lowering your fuel bill.

Before SailPlan, most emissions tracking was done with rough estimates in spreadsheets. If ships used a SaaS solution, it was basically a tarted up version of the same spreadsheet.

Shipping is an industry that desperately needs technology. And it’s not hard to think of 100 others.

Oh and by the way, Molly and I just happen to be co-investors in SailPlan! 🙂

Like any industry, I think SaaS will face headwinds in 2023. But a scalable software product, high margins and recurring revenue are a winning combination.

And with much of our economy barely touched by technology, they have a lot of room to run.

What do you think the future holds for SaaS businesses? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

Have a great weekend everyone!

More on tech:

Is 2023 the Best Time to Invest in Startups?

The Magic of Milestone-Based Funding

Is SBF Laundering Money As We Speak?

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Photo: “CNET’s Molly Wood” by NVIDIA Corporation is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

As Fed Rates Peak, Are Markets Ready to Take Off?

In 2022, the Fed tightened its vice grip until we squealed. But as interest rates peak this year, markets are in a position for serious growth.


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It stands to reason: if someone is hitting you with a stick, the pain diminishes when they stop hitting you. To confirm this, I looked at four periods of peak interest rates from 1981 to today.

In most cases, markets jumped significantly within a year after the federal funds rate peaked.

Let’s dig into some examples….

Paul Volcker’s Hammer

Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker took interest rates to eyewatering levels in 1981. They peaked at 19% that summer, a far cry from today’s 4.5%.

Markets continued to fall for about a year.

But then, something amazing happened. Volcker crushed inflation and stocks rocketed upward for almost 20 years.

A Stake Through Inflation’s Heart

Like the undead, inflation rose again in 1989. Volcker pushed rates back up to 10% by April, ramming a stake through its cold, black heart.

Markets jumped shortly after, rising about 16% in the next year.

The Go-Go 90’s

After falling to a low of 3% in 1993, the Fed hiked rates to a peak of 6% in the spring of 1995. Chairman Alan Greenspan aimed to cool a red-hot economy and prevent inflation.

Markets ignored him. Stocks went vertical, more than doubling in 4 years.

The Financial Crisis

By the mid-2000’s, the real estate market was out of control. The Federal Reserve took rates from a rock-bottom 1% to 5% by the summer of 2007.

This time, it really was different.

There was no quick rebound even as the Fed took rates to zero. In fact, it took over 5 years for stocks to recover from the financial crisis.

The financial crisis stands out as the worst since the Great Depression. Last year’s S&P 500 return of -18% doesn’t compare to the Great Recession’s -48% bloodbath.

In all, once rates peak, we usually see markets begin to climb in 12 months or less.

As companies look at a future of stable or declining rates, they’re more comfortable borrowing money and making investments. If rates peak mid-year as analysts project, I expect to see markets jump by the end of 2023.

What do you think 2023 holds for markets? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on markets:

Tiger Global Losing $185 Million a Day

Is SBF Laundering Money As We Speak?

Why Crypto is Still Massively Overvalued

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Is 2023 the Best Time to Invest in Startups?

It was a rough 2022 in tech — layoffs, shutdowns, and stocks falling off a cliff. But 2023 promises to be a golden age for startup investors.

Here’s why I’m more excited than ever to invest in 2023…


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Valuations

In 2021, you could raise venture capital for a fruit stand.

I saw crypto startups with no product or customers raising “seed rounds” at $100 million valuations every day. Deals moved so fast that if you did any diligence, you might miss it.

Now, the market has slowed to a crawl. The vaporware startups have disappeared.

What’s left? Great companies raising at reasonable prices.

I’m often paying half as much for a company as I did in 2021. Even fast growing startups with several hundred thousand in yearly revenue go for about $10 million.

A lower entry price means more upside. And since a seed investor like me probably won’t exit for 10 years, prices could skyrocket in the mean time.

Focus

Founders today are laser focused. They’re not speaking at conferences or rolling out NFT’s.

They’re fighting to make sure their businesses survive.

Founder distraction is a giant killer of startups. For better or for worse, facing bankruptcy concentrates the mind.

I think founders and teams will perform better under this pressure, difficult as it can be.

Access

These days, I can get into any deal I want. Founders have to cast the net beyond the most famous firms in order to raise a round.

For angels and new VC’s, this is a boon. If you ask to get into any deal out there right now, it will probably happen.

There are only a few companies founded every year that matter. Our only job is to get as big a slice as possible of those deals.

That’s a lot easier to do in 2023 than it was in 2021.

Uber, Airbnb, and Block were all founded during the financial crisis. Someone is out there creating the next Uber right now.

It’s our job to find them.

How do you feel about investing in 2023? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

The Magic of Milestone-Based Funding

Is SBF Laundering Money As We Speak?

Zero to One

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Photo: Uber founder “Travis Kalanick” by jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Magic of Milestone-Based Funding

There’s a law in Silicon Valley as basic as F = ma: milestone-based funding. It’s why you can’t raise $100 million on day 1. It’s also why my positions in my strongest companies are many times larger than my weakest ones, as if by magic.


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…You show incremental progress. We’re engaged in milestone-based investing where the amount of money you raise and the valuation you’re able to get scales with the amount of proof you have delivered to investors about the company.”

David Sacks, All In Podcast #43

Milestone-based funding means that you don’t get all the money your company will ever need at once. Instead, you get a little now, go accomplish some stuff, and come back for more.

In venture’s early days, a company was financed once, and it either sunk or swam. Milestone based funding lets investors allocate their capital more efficiently.

The most successful companies need more money to grow. Meanwhile, throwing good money after bad rarely gets you anywhere.

Let’s see how this works in practice by looking at two companies in my portfolio.

A Tale of Two Startups

I invested in both Company A and Company B within weeks of each other in the spring of 2021. With high hopes, I sent in my wires and envisioned a wonderful future for both.

Well, I was half right.

Company B has increased revenue 6-fold since then. It’s expanding to new markets and signing up customers like crazy.

For Company A, the picture isn’t nearly as rosy.

Revenue hasn’t grown at all and burn is heavy. Raising more money is impossible and bankruptcy is a very real possibility.

How Milestone-Based Funding Played Out

My initial investment in both these companies was exactly the same amount. But now, my investment in Company B is almost 6 times as large.

The reason is very simple: I doubled down in Company B and did not reinvest in Company A.

Company B recently raised a much larger round at the same price as before. With amazing progress, I was happy to 6x my investment.

Add in a little dilution from this round, and my position in Company B is nearly 6 times bigger than my position in A.

If Company B continues to perform well, I’ll be putting in even more. That, plus increases in valuation, may eventually make my investment in B dozens or hundreds of times larger.

What This Means for Founders

Raise an amount appropriate to where your company is at today.

If you have only a couple of customers, you’re probably looking at around $500,000 in pre-seed. If you have $250,000 ARR, you may be able to raise a $2 million seed round.

Then, keep those investors updated on your progress. Remember, there’s more money where that came from!

Milestone-based funding is a brutal system, but it’s necessary.

I’d love to help Company A with another check. I love what they do and I want to see them succeed.

But I just can’t justify it when other startups are performing better.

What questions do you have about fundraising? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Is SBF Laundering Money As We Speak?

Zero to One

Why I Just Invested in Rilla, the Killer App for Outside Sales

Note: Shout-out to Fathom.fm for finding that David Sacks quote in seconds. Making audio searchable really is the future! Delighted to be an investor in this great startup.

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 with great returns.

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Photo: “David Sacks” by jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0.