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VC Fundraising hitting bottom?

The latest NVCA Numbers on fundraising of VC Funds are here, and essentially it is falling of a cliff. In Q3 of 2009 only 17 funds raised capital. While this will probably go up to 18 or 19 (initial numbers by the NVCA usually are corrected upwards in their later reports) this is still abysmal.

VC Fund Raising 3Q2009

Based on the back-of-the-envelope math in my previous post this rate of fundraising would mean venture captial would shrink to a little over 200 firms or a quarter of its current size. While possible, that seems pessimistic. From what I hear from people in the VC industry, there is at least some evidence that investors are still interested in VC as an asset class and investments will increase as the liquidity of long-term investors gets better. I think there is a chance that this is the low point of the fund raising activities for this downturn.

AskSunday – Not the right virtual assistant for me

Note: AskSunday is a legitimate company, however there is a scam that uses the name of AskSunday (and variations including MakeSunda, Ask-Sunday, 5 Star Concierge LLC) to defraud people. See the comments below this post for lots of information about the scam. I also wrote up a short summary in this ost.

I am currently looking for a virtual assistant that can help me with simple everyday tasks such as scheduling meetings, dealing with call centers, organizing travel and simple research tasks. After hearing good things about AskSunday I decided to give it a try. Overall it was a disappointing experience. Ask Sunday feels very much in beta and the staff doesn’t seem to be up to the task. The basic test assignment (schedule a haircut) was not successfully completed after one week and 25+ emails. If anyone has a better experience with another service, please let me know.

Going into this experiment, my thinking had been that the two biggest challenges when working with a virtual assistant would be context and security. The problem with context is that an assistant knows very little about me, my job(s), where I live, how I organize my life etc. For the assistant to be successful I need to provide a lot of detail (e.g. it takes 30 minutes from Stanford to the place I get a haircut , leave that much buffer please) which reduces the time saving. The second problem is security. Assume I want to call my dental plan about a billing issue. At a minimum the assistant needs access to my health records, social security number, credit card information,  address and online credentials. The perfect Identity Theft Starter Kit. But it turned out with AskSunday I never got far enough to even get into these issues. Details below.

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Working out while using the computer

My Home Workout Setup

My Home Workout Setup

One of the challenges of working a lot with computers is that you end up sitting in a chair for a large part of the day. Recently a number of people have started experimenting with setups where you don’t sit down such as using a computer while on a stationary bike, treadmill or standing. I tried the bike approach and having had the setup for a few months now, I really like the experience. I usually spend 2-4 hours online after coming home from work in the evening. Of that I spend about 10-12 hours per week on the bike wich adds up to somewhere around 3000-4000 calories per week. Not a huge amount, but I definitely feel a difference.

It’s not a replacement for running though. My heart rate while on the bike is usually just above 100, far below what it is even on a slow run. The bike setup is also not suitable for all tasks. For editing photos, making slides or complex writing it is back to the Aeron.

The parts for the setup are actually fairly cheap, although you need a 2nd monitor.  Exact setup after the break.

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Are “Low Light” iPhone Camera Apps Bogus?

There are a number of iPhone camera apps that promise to have superior performance in low light settings by using the iPhone’s accelerometer. The basic idea is very simple and intuitive. To quote from the Night Camera web site:

Due to low light condition, the shutter time is longer, and even small shaking from the tapping of the camera button will make the photo un-usable.

So, we created Night Camera, the app to prevent the blur at the first place. Using the built-in iPhone accelerometer, it automatically shoots the photo when it detects the iPhone being stable, so you have a real chance to get some good photos at night.

Sounds very compelling. Basically image stabilization (or rather image selection based on stability data) on inexpensive hardware.

There is one problem with this, which is that the iPhone according to this post uses a camera module that has a fixed 200ms rolling shutter. This seems very plausible, as most camera modules of cell phone use this technique. There also is plenty of photo evidence that this is the case. With a rolling shutter, the exposure time of the CMOS sensor is fixed. In other words, the claim that the shutter time is longer at night is wrong. Unless I am missing something, the makers of the above application at least don’t understand how the iPhone camera works.

Now it may be that in general the accelerometer could be useful for enhancing image quality by reducing movement. However anecdotal evidence shows no visible improvement, and the above app has only 2.5 start on iTunes.

Venture Captial Update

The NVCA published its latest numbers on VC fundraising, and as expected they are not pretty. Only 40 new funds were raised for a total of $4.31 billion. Both numbers are just above half the rate at which firms were raising money before the current downturn hit.

While low, these number are actually better than I would have expected. The total amount raised is slightly higher than last quarter. Usually the NVCA numbers in the first press release are about 5-10% below the final numbers, thus one would expect this to look even better. However about 25% of the total funding amount is just from two funds (August and Bain), this might skew the numbers. And I would expect the downturn to continue.

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EIR at Morgenthaler Ventures

A few people mentioned that they were suprised about my move to Stanford after leaving Voltage. This post should be a lot less suprising: I am joining Morgenthaler Ventures as a part-time Entrepreneur in Residence. Spending a day a week at Morgenthaler Ventures is a very synergistic combination. The exposure to bleeding edge technology in Stanford helps understanding entrepreneurial opportunities. Vice versa seeing the hard technical problems that portfolio companies face helps define meaningful new research areas. And while some of you may not have heard of them before, Morgenthaler is a great firm to work with.

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