Welcome

Hi, I'm Nick.  I'm a partner at  Union Square Ventures where I invest in internet applications and infrastructure.   I'm interested in technologies that unlock new collaborative, creative and economic models.

Some selected older posts: Bitcoin as Battery (2021), Cryptographic Identity (2020), The Butter Thesis (2019), The Myth of the Infrastructure Phase (2018), Cryptonetworks and why tokens are fundamental (2018), just_work = true (2018), Cryptocurrenices: the native business model of attention (2017), Purpose, Mission & Strategy (2017), The Blockchain as verified public timestamps (2015), Winning on Trust (2013), Where do web standards come from? (2013), Why It’s Expensive to be Poor (And Why It Shouldn’t Be) (2013), Jane Jacobs, Inspiration, and the Internet (2012), Cities that work like the web (2012).

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Latest

Memory as a Service

Part of the USV investment thesis is “Access to Knowledge”.  To date, most of our investing in this area has primarily been around consumer learning platforms, like Duolingo, Quizlet, Codecademy, Outschool, Brilliant and others.  These platforms are generally focused on acquiring and internalizing new knowledge. There is another pillar of the Access to Knowledge thesis which we’ve explored less, but which is equally important: making better sense of the information we already have...

Verified Personal Content

For the last 15 or so years, I’ve been blogging occasionally on this website. Unfortunately, towards the end of last year, I lost control of my long-term domain name, nickgrossman-dot-is (intentionally not linking to it here). This was a dumb mistake; I just missed the renewal notice and someone else claimed it. Painful lesson learned. At the time, I was bummed but figured it would just be on me to rebuild SEO to the **real** Nick Grossman blog. But, oddly, the new registrant has taken...

Bitcoin as Battery

One of my favorite things about crypto is that, every so often, your conception of what it is changes. Bitcoin at first was “weird internet money” and then it was “a protocol” and then it was “digital gold”. Ethereum is “ICOs”, or maybe “DeFi”, or maybe “Web3”, or maybe all three, or maybe something else. Crypto wallets are a place to hold money, or maybe they’re also your digital identity. Crypto protocols like...

Two Screens for Teachers

Sometimes, an answer to a hard problem is so simple and elegant that you’re surprised it wasn’t obvious earlier. Two Screens for Teachers is one of those answers. Even though vaccines are on the way, many students and teachers will be interacting remotely at least through the rest of this school year. Adding a second screen is, in fact, a game changer when you spend your life on Zoom. Makes it so you can see people and content at the same time. For teachers, this is even more...

No Wasted Footsteps

This summer, we moved into a new house. Moving is a lot of work. As part of moving out of our old house, we got rid of a lot of junk that we had accumulated over the years. We ended up working with the amazing Dave O’Rourke of Spaceback. As Dave and I were loading a huge junk pile into his truck, he said something that really stuck with me — he said: “in this business, you can’t waste any footsteps”. Meaning, there’s a lot to do, lots of things to lift and...

Hardware-based Identity

I’ve written before about how re-structuring identity is one of the most interesting opportunities on the web today. Today’s identity ecosystem is account-based (accounts with Google, Facebook, Apple, etc), which perpetuates data silos and prevents interoperability & innovation. As web3 and crypto become more widespread, there’s an opportunity to shift to an identity model that’s more about cryptographic signatures, which can be done directly by an individual without...

The Beauty of Focus

It has been a stressful year, in so many ways. This morning, I opened up my Calm app to attempt to resurrect my meditation habit. I have had an intermittent meditation practice for years, and despite the fact that it really seems to work for me, I have never developed a rock steady daily habit. (From a tools perspective, I find that when I’m in a good routine, I either use nothing and just do breathing, or use a simple app like Insight Timer, but when I’ve lost the groove I find it...

Second Chance Studios

Several years ago, I started volunteering at Defy Ventures, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals start their own businesses. Through Defy, I met an entrepreneur named Coss Marte, who beginning to build a personal fitness business called Coss Athletics. At first, it consisted of 1:1 and group sessions with Coss in parks, and has grown steadily since then. Now called ConBody, it features both a studio on the Lower East Side and a growing online business. Importantly, ConBody...

The Slow Hunch

One of my favorite ideas from the last 10 years is “The Slow Hunch” which my friend Steven Johnson popularized in his book Where Good Ideas Come From. Here is a good summary of the book, and the idea of The Slow Hunch is this: “World-changing ideas generally evolve over time as slow hunches rather than sudden breakthroughs” Great thinkers and inventors such as Darwin and Tim Berners-Lee used The Slow Hunch to process big ideas over long periods of time. A kernel of an...

The 1k Project

It has been a long few months, and many people’s lives have been turned upside down in untold ways. One way to help is through the 1k Project. The 1k Project matches sponsors with individuals & families in need, using a $1k / month for 3 months model. Recipients are sourced through the Project’s trusted network, and donations are anonymous, unrestricted gifts delivered via GoFundMe. I’m sponsoring a family starting this month. I am a big believer in unrestricted cash as...

Listening

In the wake of the events of the past few weeks, I am trying to focus my efforts on listening. Here are some things I’m listening to: Dear white people, a list for you.1. Do not ask Black people to take on more of a burden.— Tuhina Verma Rasche (@tvrasche) June 2, 2020 Dear white people,For days you’ve asked me what you can do to help. I’ve finally found an answer.Let your guard down and listen. pic.twitter.com/74SVv8XOqp— Emmanuel Acho (@thEMANacho) June 2, 2020 So, I wrote...

Quarantine Creativity

Continuing to look for glimmers of hope and positivity in the middle of this crisis, one area that is for sure glimmering is at-home creativity. I know from seeing the numbers from some of USV’s portfolio companies in the “creator” space that creative activity is way up. People are stuck at home, and they are writing, making music and getting busy in the kitchen. Here is one example which just floored me. My daughter’s best friend is in the Boston Children’s Chorus...

Post-COVID: Which Behaviors Will Stick?

It’s an overwhelming time right now. Everyone in the world is focused on COVID-19, and to varying degrees, is changing the way they live. From an economic perspective — beyond the obvious massive damage due to a halting of large swaths of the economy, which will need to be addressed with some form of government bailout — there will also be some amount of permanent restructuring. Many people are experiencing, for the first time, how many activities — work, learning...

The Great Shift to Video

It has been astonishing (and largely encouraging) to see nearly every activity that can be shifted to video begin to go there. Over the past few days, in our house, we’ve seen the following: Piano lesson over FaceTimeBand practice over ZoomMany business calls over ZoomScavenger hunt over FaceTimeAcademic and fun classes on Outschool (also Zoom)Virtual cocktail hour over ZoomColoring contest (3 marker challenge) over FaceTime Further, all kind of activity is moving to chat: iMessage...

Simple Systems

I think a lot about systems — for personal organization, for business automation, for urban information, for financial infrastructure, for the internet, etc. On a big macro level, I have always been fascinated by the way that many forces, people and ideas come together to make things. And on a micro level, what it takes to say, keep your finances in order, or keep your to-dos rational, etc. One thing I have found to be true is that simple systems tend to work better. They are easier to...

Forcing Change

I’m supposed to be in Europe this week to speak at a conference and attend another one, but I decided to stay home, to be safe. I am hearing all sorts of stories of events being called off and flights being canceled. It’s estimated that the airline industry’s 2020 revenues could go down by 40%, or over half a trillion dollars. People are changing their behavior. It is not easy to get people to change behavior. Typically it only happens when there is something really amazing or...

Bird by Bird

Sometimes things can get overwhelming. Tasks can seem too big to even begin. This, of course, is not true. Every journey begins with a single step, etc. My wife recently pointed me to this great passage by Anne Lamott which puts it yet another way: “Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen...

Cryptographic Identity

Last week I wrote about the inherent tension between data portability and privacy, and suggested that one solution would be an exportable “privacy context” that could travel with ported data. Such an approach, however, would require a notion of identity that is broader than a single account at a single company. Rather, it would require the linking of one or more “proprietary identities” (i.e., accounts at tech companies) with some type of “cryptographic...

Data Portability and Privacy

Earlier this week, I spoke at a Justice Department / Stanford conference about antitrust issues in the tech sector. Our panel included Patricia Nakache from Trinity Ventures, Ben Thompson from Stratechery and Mark Lemley from Stanford. If you are interested you can watch the whole thing here: 📺Catch the full replay of @Stanford & @TheJusticeDept's public workshop where academics, regulators, media and investors examined the complex intersection of VC and #antitrust. @pnakache's...

Proof of Transfer (PoX)

Last week, the Blockstack team formally rolled out their proposal for a new mining mechanism for the Stacks blockchain called Proof of Transfer (PoX). In addition to the blog post, you can read the full PoX white paper and the Stacks Improvement Proposal (SIP-007) that details the idea. PoX is a way of building new blockchains on top of existing Proof-of-Work blockchains like Bitcoin. The Stacks blockchain has always been built on top of Bitcoin, but has thus far used a proof-of-burn (PoB)...

Nick Grossman

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